Tuesday 8 December 2009

The Dust Archive

I've written a few times recently (on this blog, and on The Culture Vulture blog) about the closing down of the spaces that I think of as Leeds Met Gallery and Studio Theatre.

This time last year, Annie Lloyd, Director of the Gallery & Studio Theatre, and I completed a book called The Dust Archive: A History of Leeds Met Studio Theatre. Earlier this year I quoted my introduction to the book here.

Tonight we finally launch the book, and it will be available for purchase after Christmas, I believe. To mark the launch, here are few pages from the book chosen at random. You don't get the full effect without having the book in front of you, but if you click on the images you'll see them in more detail.

Although the future of the Gallery & Studio Theatre programmes is still uncertain, I hope the book stands as celebration of an amazing body of work, presented within the Studio Theatre and beyond its walls.

Monday 7 December 2009


If you're in Leeds next week, it would be great to see you at this performance intervention that I've created with Level 2 BA Art, Event, Performance students at Leeds Met University. It further explores the story gathering and re-telling work I've been doing in Third Angel in the last few years, with projects such as Where Have They Hidden All The Answers? We're exploring why we choose to tell, and re-tell, stories and why we choose to hear particular stories over others. We'll also be collecting stories, too - any story you want to tell us.

You can drop in any time for a 10 minute performance experience, and see it as many times as you like - there are over 200 story/performer combinations to choose from... It runs at Broadcasting Place - opposite The Fenton.

Here's the official info:

Leeds Met Art, Event, Performance presents
A documentary performance Devised in collaboration with Alexander Kelly (Co-Artistic Director, Third Angel)

Monday 14 December, 11am - 7pm
Tuesday 15 December, 10am - 6pm
Broadcasting Place, Woodhouse Lane, Leeds LS2

Hello there.
Please sit down, make yourself comfortable.
I’ve got a story to tell you.

On Monday 14 and Tuesday 15 the Playback researchers will be sharing and collecting stories in Broadcasting Place, Leeds Met University.

Turn up at any time during research hours, select a story title, and our researchers will do the rest. Each performance experience will last about 10 minutes, and you are free to visit as many times as you like. If you would like to contribute a story of your own to our research, we will be delighted to take care of it for you.

Friday 4 December 2009

Cross Cutting

Gillian Lees in A Perfect Circle, video still by Christopher Hall

Our most recent short film, A Perfect Circle, is showing as part of The Sheffield Pavilion 2009 in the group show Cross Cutting at the Sierra Metro Gallery in Edinburgh, 12 - 20 December. Full details on their site.

Wednesday 2 December 2009

Dice and Figures

snakey, originally uploaded by third angel.

Lots of the dice and miniature figures that feature in the "It Starts With The Dice" section of Words & Pictures are up on our Flickr pages now. There's also some new stuff in the On The Road set, too.

I'll post more Words & Pictures stuff in the next week or so.

Wednesday 18 November 2009

A New Office Text

The Office Texts that feature in Words & Pictures (there were two or four of them in the shows in Belfast, Sheffield and Leeds) were all inspired by our real life encounters with "bureaucracy gone mad" and weirdly unhelpful working practices. After the Sheffield show we got a great email from audience member David Singh, which included the following Office Text-style experience. Thanks to David for letting me quote it here.
I once had a temping job at a council. My mornings were spent wrestling with an archaic printing machine churning out huge rolls of concertina-folded paper that had something to do with tax. These were later "processed" by others in the department whilst I scanned hand-written documents into a computer. In the afternoon I was given back the day's printouts along with printouts of the documents I'd been scanning all morning. I then took these mountains of paper up to the third floor and filed them into cardboard boxes. A whole room was dedicated to these boxes, and I was told to be meticulous about the filing. At the end of every week I was tasked to remove the oldest of the cardboard boxes, and unceremoniously bin them. This surprised me at first and I asked a colleague if the files had ever been used, ever been accessed. I was told not. I asked why. I was told that there hadn't been an audit. I asked when the last audit was. I was told there hadn't been one before, and that there were no plans for one in the future.

Wednesday 4 November 2009

Memories of Spaces

I was invited by The Culture Vulture to write something for their Speakers Corner page. My recent post about Leeds Met Gallery got me thinking again about how we remember different spaces, and so I decided to expand on that a little.

You can read Memories of Spaces here.

Tuesday 27 October 2009

Words & Pictures: Introduction, Contents, Acknowledgements

Words & Pictures is one of those projects where I find it tricky to pinpoint how/where it began. We’ve been working with the Off The Shelf Festival of Writing and Reading for a number of years now. Third Angel showed Pills For Modern Living as part of the festival (and in conjunction with ArtSheffield) in 2001. Chris Hall and I have made a number of installation and performance pieces for them since then, all of them exploring the significance of writing and reading in our own lives, from postcards to comics to books.

One of those installations, Chapter Titles From The Unwritten Book Of My Life Story (2005), was itself inspired by the making of The Lad Lit Project in 2004. In researching that show I asked men what they would call the chapters in the unwritten books of their life stories, and as part of that experiment I wrote a list of the chapter titles from my own life. When Chris was editing documentation of an early work in progress of The Lad Lit Project, in which titles were written in chalk on to, and then washed off, blackboards, he discovered the speeded up evaporation effect that then inspired our installation piece. We filmed me writing up and washing off all of the chapter titles from my list - with me self editing and re-writing as I went. Chris then removed me completely in the edit suite, leaving a series of vanishing chapter titles to be projected onto a blackboard.

A couple of those chapters had in fact already been written, and I still have the list as a kind of ‘writing to do list’ – or a 'waiting for inspiration and/or time' list. Although they wouldn’t flow together as a narrative whole, I imagine that eventually they would hang together as an autobiography of sorts. Most of them are still to be written (or written down at least), but the idea is there.

On top of these chapters, we have, unsurprisingly, built up a small a collection of text pieces that were written for other projects and didn't quite fit the 'finished' version of the show, even though we liked them. Over the years a few of these have stuck around, kept our interest - but they haven't found a home - yet.

More recently I was talking to Pat at Studio Dust, who designed the Third Angel website, and some of our print. Dust have done some really nice work in collaboration with other artists, producing books and paper/card objects. I really like the fact that whilst they do a lot of work digitally, they also have their own silk screen press in their workspace. Pat and I were talking about the images on our Flickr photostream, and he said, “We should do a book together.”

“Great,” I said, “what would be in it?”

“Your words and your pictures,” said Pat, “and we’ll design it.”

We liked, of course, the idea of doing a book. And it was natural that we would want to work with Off The Shelf to launch it. However, as a way of interrogating the material for the book, we’re doing the book reading first.


So, Words & Pictures, at this stage, is a theatrical short story collection, made up of material Rachael and I have produced for a variety of contexts over the last few years.

The Office Texts were originally written during the making of Believe The Worst in 2001, these monologues proved to be a bit too real-world to fit into the dark reality of that show.

Empty Benches and Benchers between them chart the development of an obsession. Starting on our travels for Pleasant Land we began noticing, and then photographing, empty solitary benches. Several years later I found myself collaborating with Paula Diogo, then of Teatro Praga, for their invited-artist-duets project “Shall We Dance IV”. Paula and I continued researching benches and collecting other people’s bench stories, compiling our findings into a performance piece (named slightly confusingly after a different short chapter) Off The White.

A version of Empty Benches was published in the limited edition artist's book, Slow, edited and bound by Ian Abbott; it was performed as part of the Café Scientifique/Art Science Encounters 'How To Be Creative' event, earlier this year. Benchers was reworked from its full length version to be a 6 minute 40 second Peachy Coochy presentation at NRLA earlier this year, and has now been reworked and slightly extended again; Benchers is co-written with Paula and a number of contributing benchers.

It Starts With The Dice was originally written, at the request of Teresa Brayshaw, for May Day Conversations at Leeds Met University earlier this year, specifically an hour of hobby-horses. I took the prompt fairly literally and used it as a chance to get down one of those chapters from the list. A short piece about hobbies, games, friendship, attention to detail and pedantry.

Dark is an extract from a new piece in development.

Dead Jellyfish is a new piece developed specifically for Words & Pictures. It started off as a (very) short chapter from the list. When I presented it to Rachael recently she suggested that there was more to be said about it. She was right. There’s a lot more to be said about dead jellyfish strewn on the shore of a Scottish loch than you might initially suppose.

Songmap is our contribution to our good friends Unlimited Theatre’s ongoing Mixtape project, for which a range of artists are being asked to choose a favourite song and set stage action of some kind to it. Ultimately the aim is to have a “a whole tape’s worth” of performances. We’ll be unveiling Songmap, and revealing our chosen song at the first performances of Words & Pictures in Sheffield and Leeds. Making Songmap has been a really interesting process for us – deserving of its own blog entry, I think, so more on that soon.

So finally, for this post, thanks to Off The Shelf, The Showroom Cinema, Leeds Met Gallery & Studio Theatre, Studio Dust, Unlimited Theatre, and all of the people who have fed ideas into the development of Words & Pictures, either in the making processes of the individual pieces, or as audience members at the work-in-progress showings at Forest Fringe and FIX09 over the summer.


UPDATE: there is a "Second Printing" update about Words & Pictures in a later blog post, here.

Tuesday 20 October 2009

The Wealth of Nations

The Wealth of Nations
video still by Christopher Hall

When we were making Leave No Trace in 2002, Chris and Barry went to Scarborough for us. Leave No Trace was about a woman who went through a fugue state, leaving the life she knew, travelling happilly, not even remembering her name.

We were struggling with how to present this story - partly because the whole point was that she would not remember the events of the fugue afterwards. It was hard to tell, from our research, what would actually have happened to her. We had an idea that, this being a small island, she would have ended up at the coast, at the sea side. Looking back, though I don't know how conscious this was at the time, it seems appropriate that we asked film makers Christopher Hall and Barry Ryan to go and collect images for us - without us being there. To document what they encountered on their travels.

They brought back an hour or so of rushes of misty seaside entertainments, along with seaside souvenirs. And those souvenirs made it into the show, but the footage didn't, as we gradually moved away from a thought-track of video images to hand drawn animations. (There was some video in the first version of Leave No Trace, but none of the Scarborough footage).

So this tape has been on the raw materials pile for a few years now, waiting for the right outlet. A week or so ago Chris came into the Third Angel space, as he does from time to time, and dug out the rushes. He explained he'd got an idea for something in response to a call out for films for White Night in Brighton.

The resulting 30 second video, The Wealth of Nations, will be presented during White Night as part of Lighthouse's 30 Seconds of Fortune, on 24 October. You can also see all the 30 second films on line, and find out more about the scheme, on Lighthouse's site.

Tuesday 6 October 2009

Leeds Met Gallery

Last chance to see... Leeds Met Studio Theatre – the space, not the programme – has closed down now. Along with the rest of the building it is housed in, H Block, it is being decommissioned, and this season’s programme, as exciting as ever (and of which we are pleased to be a part with Words & Pictures), is taking place up the road at University of Leeds’ Theatre Workshop. (Full details here).

But round the corner and down the corridor, Leeds Met Gallery – the venue and the programme – is currently hosting its final exhibition in its current space. Or should that be spaces? The final exhibitions (Souvenir, Old Wars New Wars and As Long As It Lasts) really show off one of the things that is unique about this venue; these three spaces - all accessed through the same double doors - all feel so distinct.

When we made Pleasant Land for Leeds Met Gallery in 2004 (co-commissioned by Shooting Live Artists), this gave us the opportunity to make three separate but linked pieces. In the front gallery, with a glass wall, we were able to grow a turf map of England:

It grew really well, apart from a single strip which seemed to correspond to the M1/A1 corridor. The turf map was surrounded by lightbox maps of the travels we had undertaken as part of the project so far:

Pleasant Land travels lightbox map: Land's End
(click to view full size)

In the back room - the double height space - we had the space to construct our own room, designed to house the audience, with space surrounding it for window-viewed video pieces, mini sculptural installations and performance.

Pleasant Land: Queuing

In the upstairs space, which overlooks the double-height space in places, but can be curtained off to be self-contained, we created a study room where audiences could contribute to the ongoing research for the project.

For a space with such strong character, it is also very flexible, and an important decision for artists occupying it is how separate to keep the three rooms. It can feel pretty open plan, or the three rooms can be made distinct with curtains and partitions, and smaller spaces can be made, of course (as the Gallery provided for Christopher Hall and I when we showed Reading & Writing there earlier this year).

An important experience for me was seeing Forced Entertainment's Ground Plans For Paradise, back in 1994, which used the spaces really well. The photographs of sleeping people that were exhibited at normal exhibition height in the upstairs gallery continued around the walls, over the balcony open to the double-height room, and around its far walls - so you were able to see some of the sleepers close up, but others only at a distance (from the balcony or from the ground). The double-height space was home to the beautiful, glowing balsa-wood city - which could also be explored up close up at ground level or viewed at a distance from above. On Saturdays the front gallery, viewable from inside or through the windows, was site of a durational, eyes-closed performance element.

The current exhibitions, which run until 17 October, use the three rooms differently again, and quietly commemorate the end of their lives as exhibition spaces. If you're in Leeds, or Yorkshire, it's worth making a last visit. Maybe see you there.

Monday 21 September 2009

Polyhedral Dice

d20 yellow a, originally uploaded by third angel.

Some new photos on our Flickr photostream. These are test shots for the "It Started With The Dice" section of our new piece Words & Pictures, that were used in Edinburgh at the Forest Fringe work-in-progress showings. Next outing for Words & Pictures is at FIX 09 next week - which will probably include the dice...

Wednesday 9 September 2009

Ghostwriting for Performance

Beginnings, they say, are difficult.

It starts with something my Mom said.

When I left school, I carried on living at home with my Mom for a couple of years. I had a series of crap jobs: in a bar, then a call centre, then a warehouse. And during that two-year period, my social life revolved, almost entirely, around my gang of mates. All of us lads, all about the same age. And we did everything together.
We went to the pub together.
We played computer games together.
We played Dungeons and Dragons together. A lot.
We watched films together.
We watched football together.
We went shopping together.
We hung around each other’s houses, listening to music and talking about girls – together.

At some point during this period, my mom said to me, ‘When you are older and you come to write your autobiography, you will call this chapter “Waiting For The Lads”.’ And ever since my mom said that to me, I’ve had this idea in the back of my head about what I would call any given chapter of my life, even as I’m still living it.

It starts with my mate Boris sending me an e-mail, urging me to read Tim Lott’s novel, White City Blue, because ‘it’s written about us’.

It starts with Boris giving me the book Surviving Sting by Paul MacDonald, which is set in my home town, Walsall.

It starts with an e-mail I sent to Boris in response to that book, expressing enjoyment of the Black Country nostalgia, but commenting how obvious the formula, or recipe, for Lad Lit is in it.

It starts with an idea for a one-to-one performance called What Makes Me Me, What Makes You You?

It starts with an idea for a solo performance for an audience of eight, or ten, or twelve maybe, all sitting round a large table.

It starts with a research project called Matter, a collaboration with photographer Andy Eccleston, who arranges many, many hospital appointments for me and begins to compile a library of footage of me, using as many medical imaging techniques as he can access.

It evolves, in a discussion with Rachael, into a project that ‘isn’t autobiographical as much as about autobiography’.

It becomes as a research project called Writing Backwards.

It starts when we don’t get the money for that research project and we can’t bring in the three performers for me to direct. So, we put me on stage, although not yet alone, and invite many other men, some of them performers, into our rehearsal space to drink beer and wine, and talk about their lives.

It starts, with me asking men what they would call the chapters in the unwritten books of their life stories.

It starts, perhaps, with a previous project, Class of ‘76, in which I tell my own story of attempting to find my 34 classmates from my 1976 Chuckery Infant School class photograph. Telling my story of doing that involves telling their stories, their memories. In Class of ‘76, using a simple slide projection trick, I appear to produce those children next to me on stage. School Hall Magic, I wrote at the time, summoning the ghosts of the living.


This is an extract from Ghostwriting for Performance: Third Angel's The Lad Lit Project, which was originally a performed paper that I gave at the Writing Encounters Symposium last year, and has been published this month in the Journal of Writing in Creative Practice (Vol 2 Issue 1), edited by Claire Hind and Prof Susan Orr.

There's plenty of other great stuff in it, including work by Claire MacDonald, Rita Marcalo and Dutton & Swindells. It's available from Intellect Books.

Thursday 3 September 2009

A Perfect Circle

A Perfect Circle video stills by Christopher Hall

I wrote about the the shoot for A Perfect Circle back in January. The film launches this month, along with the work of 10 other Sheffield artists, as part of The Sheffield Pavilion at the 11th Istanbul Biennial. Screenings are on 10 - 13 September at the Büyük Hotel.

A Perfect Circle is one of several pieces of work to emerge from Third Angel’s The Distance Project, an exploratory process obsessed with time and with returning; with circles and cycles, with precision. The initial intention was to document the circle-making ritual that Gillian and I perform in 9 Billion Miles From Home, and combine it with a section from the devising process of that show that didn't make the final cut of the show.

Most of our processes will throw up pieces of material like this - often held on to quite late into the process, and then cut when the show is actually being constructed from the material we've made; it just doesn't fit with the rest of the material, or something has to be cut because the show is just going to be too long. The intention will usually be that this material will then find another life in something else (a long list of irritations survived the process of Saved and turned up in a phone box in Hang Up, for example), but in fact often it doesn't. Out of context these sections can be difficult to transplant into another show or process (the lovely opening and closing sequences of a version of Hang Up that seemed to be about kidnapping were cut late into the process, and never found a home anywhere else).

The orphan material from 9 Billion Miles From Home was a description by Gillian of the world as if all she could see of it were the encoded images carried by the Voyager satellites. It was produced in a simple, task-based way - she saw each image one at a time and then described it: I can see... I can see... I can see... But as the Voyager satellites became a less significant element of 9 Billion Miles, this material didn't connect with the ritual we were creating as the show. So it was abandoned.

Thinking about making a digital short of 9 Billion Miles From Home I was interested in using this text, rather than the semi-improvised journey texts that Gillian and I deliver in the show (I think perhaps I was wary of fixing them in a distinct work, born as they are, each time they are delivered, of a particular time and place).

When we got into Sheffield Independent Film's studio we were still working out what the film was - how the ritual would be different to that of the show. Certain logistical issues meant we were already reconsidering the co-operative nature of the task (in the show Gillian and I are attached to each other via a pulley system), and we were wondering how the solo, personal nature of the text worked with the two person task.

At the very last minute (in fact later than that, the cameras were running and Gillian had started work on the circle) I took myself out of the process. I read an interview with Jack Nicholson years ago in which he observed that improvising on camera was fine because if it didn't work, there's always take two. And I've always believed that, I think. But in this case a single take was going to be 40 minutes long and would require quite a lot of re-setting. But it felt right - it suddenly made sense that this film (well, HD video) version of the ritual was more individual - a solo act of observation, creation and... what, yearning?

Needless to say, not all of the text made it into the final cut, but it is a key element. In the edit suite Chris found himself focussing on the detail of the circle making, losing the visuals from the shots of Gillian speaking completely, freeing the sync sound from the action and combining it with elements of David Mitchell's music from the live work. The connection with 9 Billion Miles From Home is clear if you've seen both pieces, but I think A Perfect Circle stands as a new departure, another outcome of The Distance Project.

Third Angel presents
A Perfect Circle
9min 32sec. HD.

A female human being performs a ritual: an attempt to describe a circle and an attempt to describe the world as if all you could see of it were the series of images carried on the Voyager satellites, the two furthest-travelled human-made objects from the Earth.

Devised by Christopher Hall, Alexander Kelly, Gillian Lees and Rachael Walton
Performed by Gillian Lees
Music by David Mitchell
Camera and Edit by Christopher Hall
Production Assistants: Cristabel Horne and Dan Wray

Commissioned by Sheffield Contemporary Art Forum for The Sheffield Pavilion 2009. Supported by Sheffield Hallam University and Leeds Metropolitan University. With thanks to Sheffield Independent Film. Third Angel is regularly funded by Arts Council England and supported by Site Gallery, Sheffield.

Monday 17 August 2009

Looking forward to Edinburgh

Forest Fringe opens today. It feels odd to refer to Forest Fringe as “our Edinburgh venue”, because it’s more than a venue – it’s a whole two week festival, and in any other city at any other time of year it would seem pretty big. But in the sprawling chaos of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe it probably seems quite small. Small but not lightweight in any way, it’s already massively influential in only its third year.

It’s not part of the Fringe, and this year neither are we, which makes the whole Edinburgh experience much more affordable, for companies and audiences – all the shows are free. This economy means you can’t book in advance by phone or internet – but you can book in advance in person – or just turn up for the show. And that’s the way it seems that Forest Fringe works – the more flexible approach means that the programme changes daily, and it’s worthwhile for audiences just to hang out there and come back from one day to the next (certainly that’s what I’m planning on doing as much as possible) – so booking in person isn’t a massive hardship in that context.

I’m particularly looking forward to seeing work by Lucy Ellinson, Chris Thorpe, Curious, Action Hero, Coney, Tim Nunn & Gillian Lees, Rotozaza, Zoo Indigo... and also being surprised by artists whose work I’m not familiar with. See the full list on the Forest Fringe site.

I will be venturing beyond Forest Fringe to see a few things – I’m booked up for: Land Without Words, featuring a solo performance by Third Angel Associate Artist Lucy Ellison; Internal, because I’ve heard so much about Ontroerend Goed's work and formally this piece sounds not-dissimilar to Homo Ludens, but thematically very different; Stan’s Café’s Home of the Wriggler, which is powered by the performers riding bicycles; and I’m really hoping to get to Little Johnny’s Big Gay Musical by Random Accomplice.

I’m sadly not going to get to see Nic Green’s Trilogy, but if I was going to be in Edinburgh for longer it would be on my must-see list.

Monday 10 August 2009

Potential Performance spaces

Last week I got a tour of Leeds Town Hall to look at some of the spaces they have available for performances and installation work. Their arts team is clearly really forward thinking, using these spaces for their annual Light Night event every October. I looked at the older and more modern cells, and got to climb the clock tower, which feels like a movie set. They are such great spaces you would really have to work with them, and not install or perform too much; audience members would get so much just from looking around. Something to bear in mind as we think about possible future projects.

Some of the photos I took on the tour are on our Flickr Photostream.

Thursday 6 August 2009

Homo Ludens on artmetropol.tv - now with subtitles

The artmetropol.tv piece about Homo Ludens - shot at one of the preview performances, so the space isn't quite finished - now has English subtitles. Watch it here.

Sunday 2 August 2009

Psalter Lane, one year on

Just over a year ago, I wrote this piece for the Sheffield Telegraph about the closure of Psalter Lane campus. We (people who live nearby) were expecting demolition of the more recent buildings, some new build and the conversion of the old library building into flats and luxury apartments.

One the routes I take in my walk to work goes down Psalter Lane (not very lane-like, if you don't know Sheffield), so I've been watching with interest whilst not much has happened. Apparently the developer has pulled out - there are a lot of empty luxury flats and apartments this side of the city. So this it what I see on my way past.

Tuesday 28 July 2009

In the room

Rachael and I have done a little work on Words & Pictures separately up to now, but today was the first day on it together, and it felt good. We’re not making this piece in a solid block of rehearsal time; more checking in with each other, trying stuff out, setting ourselves writing and re-writing work to do before we meet again. As we would expect, this process is partly decided upon, partly discovered – “ah, that’s how we make this piece.”

Words & Pictures, at the moment, takes the form of a book reading for a book that does not exist. A collection of texts that might be in our book if we had got around to writing it. We’ve had some material ear-marked for this piece for a while, but for today’s session we also dug out a few other texts that were offshoots of other projects that we wanted to do more with; sections that we liked, perhaps, for what they were, but that didn’t fit, it seemed, with the show that they were initially written for. Some texts we worked with today were not originally intended to be performed – but then, that’s what a book reading is, isn’t it?

As we would also expect there was some thinking today about what the rules of the piece are – is a text allowed in if it has already been performed as part of another show? – but mainly it was an enjoyable day of try-outs and discussion – finding out what connections there are between pieces, what stands up well, what we’re less interested in now, what development, re-writing, cutting and expanding needs to be done.

So we've got a playlist of possibles, edits and re-writes up on the blackboards in our workspce. Next session will be about considering these re-writes and looking at the new pieces we’re developing specifically for Words & Pictures.

Wednesday 22 July 2009

"Snow" in Sheffield

Snow, a video piece by Christopher Hall & Alexander Kelly, with music by Akira Rabelais, is showing as part of a free screening at The Showroom Cinema, Saturday 25th July 2009 at 4pm:
The Definition of Beauty (15)
Is it a music video or an artwork? Well, it’s neither and it’s both. This is a programme of moving-image artworks with audio that occupy a space where it is no longer necessary to make a distinction between what you see and what you hear. Curated by Richard Bolam.

It's free, as it is part of the great free music festival, Tramlines.

Monday 20 July 2009

Emerge Festival, Leeds

This Thursday, 23 July, 2-5pm, Rachael is running a 'rule-based devising' workshop as part of the Emerge Festival, and she's also on the panel for the Pitch and Win competition.

The workshop itself is at Seven, and more details are on the Carriageworks website. You can book directly by phone on (0113) 224 3801.

There are also other great looking workshops and scratch performances from artists such as Dan Bye, Red Grit, Chloe Bezer and Theatre Company Blah Blah Blah, so it's worth getting a week's pass.

Wednesday 1 July 2009

Third Angel on Twitter

After signing up to it about 10 months ago one lunch break, I've finally started tweeting on Twitter - mainly about Third Angel work and projects I'm doing with Christopher Hall, but I expect there'll also be stuff about living in Sheffield/Yorkshire and drinking double espresso. You can follow me @AlexanderKelly, should you be so inclined.

Friday 26 June 2009

Table Manners pictures

Some images from Table Manners, the project I made last month with Contemporary Performance Practice students at Leeds Metropolitan University. These photos are all by Sebastian Juszczyk (thanks Sebastian).

The show consists of a series of performer-audience member encounters over a table top, sometimes working on an individual level, sometimes with the performers all working together delivering the same material.

At the start there's an etiquette demonstration with paper cutlery and crockery:

Then the worktop becomes a drawing table:

And a place for conversation and story telling:

In the middle of the show there is a one-to-one origami lesson for each audience member:

And there are quieter moments of contemplation:

Each of the 20 audience members meets 13 of the 20 performers. So it was possible to come to see the show more than once, which a few people did, and see a very different version. I was making this piece in the middle of the making process of Homo Ludens, and there is a shared formal exploration here, in the dual layer of group performance/one-to-one performance experience.

Wednesday 24 June 2009

Third Angel in Edinburgh, 25 - 28 August 2009

We've recently put our Edinburgh dates up on the news section of the website. After saying how exciting their programme looked last year, I'm very pleased to say we're going to be part of Forest Fringe this August.

That means we're not part of the official Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Forest Fringe is its own mini festival, and consequently doesn't need to stick to one week minimum runs. The programme changes daily, and the work is free to go and see - they just pass a bucket round at the end. It's a great line up of artists this year, which we are delighted to be a part of. There's more about Forest Fringe and their fund raising campaign (putting shows on for free is expensive) on their blog.

We'll be showing the revised and updated version of Class of '76 for two nights and a work in progress version of a new piece Words & Pictures... If you are on our e-list, please note the slightly earlier start time of these shows than was stated on the last mail out. (If you want to join the e-list you can do it here.)


25 - 28 August 2009 at 7pm. Free!
Forest Fringe
Bristo Hall (above The Forest Cafe)
3 Bristo Place, Edinburgh EH1 1EY

Words & Pictures

(a work in progress)
Tuesday 25, Wednesday 26 August at 19.00 (45 min)

A collection of short stories:
Chapters from the Unfinished Books of our Life Stories.
Texts to explain our obsessions and our passions.
Writings that try to understand why it is we are fascinated by those empty benches we see by the side of the road.
That try to remember what it felt like to stand on the highest diving board as a kid.
That try to explain why we hated that job.
Notes that try to understand games and songs.
Words to accompany pictures.
Readings to be heard in the dark.

There comes a time in your life by which point you should have written a book. If you were going to. Well, we’re at that time, but we just haven’t got round to it; we’ve been busy. Really busy. There’s a book’s worth of stuff there, but, well, there’s been too much else to do. But we do like the idea of a book tour. Touring, we’ve done a lot of that. So we’re cutting straight to that bit: The Book Tour. Words & Pictures is a book reading for a book that hasn’t been written yet, let alone published.

Words & Pictures is commissioned by the Off The Shelf Festival of Writing and Reading 2009, and Leeds Met Studio Theatre.

Class of '76

(an old favourite)
Thursday 27 and Friday 28 August at 19.00 (60 min)
"incredibly moving and beautiful" Yorkshire Post
"magical and beautiful" Total Theatre

Class of '76
was originally commissioned by Small Acts at the Millennium and Site Gallery, Sheffield.

Tuesday 23 June 2009

Respecting the Grid

Perhaps it's just us, but we thought Katja painting 100 squares by hand (with assistance from Martina, in this video clip) was kinda beautiful...

Video by Rita.

Monday 22 June 2009

On the Moon

Who would have thought that a James May documentary could bring a tear to the eye? Apart from the annoyingly intrusive soundtrack, a really great programme last night, I thought.

For the record, from ongoing interest and particularly 9 Billion Miles From Home research, my top two book recommendations on this subject are Moondust: In Search of the Men Who Fell To Earth by Andrew Smith and Ascent by Jed Mercurio - the first reportage/documentary and the second fictional but inspired by real events. Both remarkably moving pieces of work. Smith's book was surely an inspiration behind, or an influence on, the movie In The Shadow of the Moon, which I can also thoroughly recommend.

Saturday 20 June 2009

Homo Ludens

Homo Ludens opens tonight at TiG7, Mannheim, under the guidance of Third Angel associate artist Lucy Ellinson, in collaboration of the whole of the team from TiG7. It's been an exciting, fun, challenging and sometimes moving process, and I'm really looking forward to seeing how the audience/players experience it. Full credits below.
Third Angel & TiG7 present
Devised and written by the company
Inspired by Letters Upon the Aesthetic Education of Man
by Friedrich Schiller

Performed by:
Rita Böhmer, Daniela Cohrs, Lucy Ellinson, Martina Heubel, Einhart Klucke, Martin Kornmeier, Jellena Lugert, Alexander O. Miller, Julia Rützel, Stefanie Rapp, Natascha Slominski

Games Waiters:
Tobias Grauheding, Tobias Hannemann, Christian Lidy, Pascal Wieandt, Nils Witte

Licht- und Tontechnik/Lighting and Sound: James Bogner
Bühnenbau/Set Construction: Hubertus Seelhorst
Malerei/Scene Painters: Katja Angerbauer & Stefan Schneider

Research texts by Chris Thorpe
Co-directed by Lucy Ellinson
Directed and designed by Alexander Kelly

Third Angel management: Hilary Foster
Third Angel Co-artistic Directors: Alexander Kelly & Rachael Walton
TiG7 Künstlerische Leitung / Creative Director: Maike Lex
TiG7 Organisation / Organisation: Christine Seikel

HOMO LUDENS is produced within /
wurde im Rahmen der Freien Theater Tage
SCHWINDELFREI 2009 produziert.
Kindly supported by / Mit freundlicher Unterstützung durch
John Deere & Sheffield Theatres

Das Theaterhaus TiG7 wird unterstützt vom
Kulturamt der Stadt Mannheim und dem Ministerium für Wissenschaft, Forschung und Kunst Baden-Württemberg

Third Angel is regularly funded by Arts Council England

Thursday 18 June 2009

Postcards From The Road - Mannheim

A note of caution to start, one of the images lower down this post is of the Schillertage 2009 publicity campaign - which some people may find quite strong, featuring, as it does, a very new born baby. Certainly the woman who stopped as I was taking a photo of it felt it was a bit too strong... or that it was weird that I was taking a photo of it, or both. But first, clocks.

The clocks at Frankfurt Airport railway station are all in sync - to the second. There are perhaps 8 along one platform, perfectly in time. Doesn't really tranlate to a photo of course.

We needed to borrow some furniture for Homo Ludens from NationalTheater Mannheim. When we made Stage An Execution for NationalTheater's Schillertage 2003 we got to explore their costume store (although we ended up making the costumes from paper) which was suitably impressive. We actually rehearsed Stage An Execution in this building, that also houses the furniture store, although we didn't come and explore that time. This floor is tables, cupboards and sofas (plus those two grandfather clocks). We needed chairs or stools, too: there's a whole separarate floor of those. They had to pretty much drag Lucy and I away before we started staging Presumption there and then.

Homo Ludens is a collaboration with the wonderful TiG7, which is both a company/producing house and receiving house. They are one of 5 independent, or free, theatres in Mannheim. The free theatres have their own strand of Schillertage, which is called Schwindelfrei. There's no direct translation into English - or no equivalent single word at least. It's a pun (kind of, I think), and it translates as 'freedom from the fear of heights'. And all of their print is vertigo inducing op-art, which you can get a taste of here.

The theme of the whole of Schillertage this year is the idea of play and the playful human. Whilst I was there the advertising campaign went up - some posters using the Schiller quote that 'man is only truly a man when he plays', and also these new-born baby posters.

I asked our collaborators from TiG7 if there is any ambiguity about the phrase 'Spiel starten' - could it mean 'start to play' - but they said that although it hints at that, the over-riding meaning is as it it looks - 'Start Game' - enhanced by the computer game style graphics. This image, and the slightly sinister undertone, really got under my skin whilst I was there. Very powerful marketing. I think our work offers a more optimistic counterpoint to the slightly bleak reading I have of this image. But as that bleak interpretation is mine, maybe that idea is somewhere in our piece, too. We'll see.

Thursday 11 June 2009

Who is Alexander Kelly?

Well, looking at this I'd say a slightly haggard looking 40 year old midlander... When I was in Mannheim with Homo Ludens rehearsals last week I did an interview with artmetropol.tv, who did a nice piece on The Lad Lit Project last year.

I would also add that it was the end of four long days of rehearsals, and if you give it a few minutes I do warm up a bit. Rita, the interviewer, is one of the maker-performers of Homo Ludens, she's just having to pretend that she doesn't know much about it.

Friday 5 June 2009

Homo Ludens rehearsals

Five days to make the show, this week.  Starting off by finishing off - working out the second half of the piece, working from the ideas we took with us, and the texts that Chris Thorpe had written.

Working with the performers who we started making the show with in English (Julia, Rita, Martina) and with the cast who they have been teaching the show to: Steffi, Jellena, Martin, Daniela, Natascha and Einhart (who will be performing the show in German) and Alex, who will be stepping into the English team and also doubling with Einhart as the show's Concierge figure.

It was a great five days, lots of ideas, try-outs, translating and discussion, but also plenty of decisions.  The show now has a working model, within which the performers are still honing and developing their own material.

It was great to hear the material they had all been developing in preparation for Lucy's and my arrival, and even quite moving at times how they had all really embraced this task.  The results were sounding great.

The two teams of performers have been working as each other's audience most of the time, apart from when we can find someone else around the building (Maike Lex, Director of TiG7, for example) to be an audience member to play the game. So in this photo:

Lucy (blue) is performing to Steffi (green) and Julia (red) is performing to Daniela (hiding), on a temporary version of the gameboard. The game does throw up these dual performer/audience member encounters from time to time. The second pair to arrive tend to get to eavesdrop on the other performance briefly:

These photos are by Marita Heinzelmann, a design student from Mannheim's University of Applied Sciences, who is visiting TiG7 for a photography project.  I like these other images she's been working on from an earlier rehearsal, too:

Martina and Martin.

Julia and Steffi.

Rita and Daniela.

Once the overall structure was in place we realised that the piece was too long for the 30 minute slots we have worked out.  This always serves to focus the mind, and suddenly it was very easy to make a couple of specific cuts of sections that were sitting a little uncomfortably in my thinking anyway.  So the structure and rules are in place, with time for the texts within them to evolve and develop.

Monday 1 June 2009

Problem Solving

When working with students on devised theatre projects, I often describe the process as one of both problem making and problem solving.  Creating and dealing with problems is part of working out what the show is – what the task of it is as performers. This process entails navigating a variety of parameters.  Some of these you can’t do anything about, or at least not by the time you’re in the making space in the run up to opening the piece: how much money and time you have (or have left), how many people are working on the project, when the show opens and how it has been advertised as working (when, where, how long, how much tickets cost, how may people at a time, etc).

For us (and others) devising work involves placing other restrictions on ourselves during the making process.  Decisions are made, and rules set, in order to have something to work with, and work against; because if anything goes, if anything is allowed, or possible, then where do you start, let alone stop?  These restrictions create opportunity and foster necessary invention.  The trick, of course, is to come up with rules and restrictions that make sense in relation to your intentions for the work: what you think it is about, how you want it to develop, how you feel about it.  What strategies do your instincts tell you will best interogate, challenge and, ultimately, help you understand those intentions for the work.

So, for example: for a project in which the narrative is constructed around the fact that two people might remember events from their relationship differently, such as Where From Here, it makes sense to us that the rooms they draw onto the walls of the set, to change the location of the telling, are drawn with their eyes closed; because memory, like these drawings, is inaccurate and evocative and indicative.  Drawing rooms with our eyes closed moves from being a restriction in the rehearsal room to being one of the performance modes and rules of the show.

As we return to the making process of Homo Ludens we find ourselves with an interesting  and unique combination of parameters: decisions already made, resources (time, money, people) and enduring artistic concerns.  The brief – the commission – is to make a performance work inspired by Friedrich Schiller’s text, Letters Upon the Aesthetic Education of Man, and specifically his notion of the 'playful human', and to make this work in collaboration with members of TiG7 (‘Theatrehaus im G7’ – the centre of Mannheim is built on a grid system, with block names rather than street names – TiG7 is the theatre in block G7) to premiere as part of NationalTheater Mannheim’s Schillertage 2009.  We have the studio theatre space of TiG7 available to us, but can work beyond its walls, too, should we wish.

Reading Schiller’s Letters, there were immediate connections with some of our current and recent concerns: inventions and inventiveness; trying to see human beings at their best; our relationship with objects, and the memories and emotions we attach to them and the ideas they can represent;  the beauty to be found in those objects, along with everyday situations and experiences, rather than those things that the media and advertising (and other aspects of Western society?) tell us are the beauty to be most valued; playfullness and game playing – in a co-operative, rather than competitive, way.

This, perhaps, is the aspect of the devising rules and parameters that you have least control over: what you happen to be interested at any one time; the ideas, concerns and obsessions that you find yourself returning to. Or avoiding, because the time isn’t right to explore those themes. In Third Angel we have been asked over the years if our work is autobiographical, and often the work has been written about in those terms, too – mostly the ‘relationships strand’ of our work – Where From Here, Saved, Presumption – along with the projects that aim to specifically deal with auto/biography as a theme such as Class of ’76 and The Lad Lit Project.  But actually any of our projects will tell the audience what some of  the preoccupations were of the people  who were in the room making that show, because the process is open and exploratory.

During the first making period for Homo Ludens back in February and March, we were interested in creating an audience experience that on the one hand is friendly and welcoming – like an informal conversation – but that also works on a deeper level.  An audience experience that is unusual but not intimidating.  A piece of work that is at once a game and a performance.  Something that is different every time; not in the way an impro show is different every time, nor the way that of course all live performance is different every night from its very liveness. Rather, a piece in which all the material is prepared, known, rehearsed, but in which, through decisions made and rolls of the dice, is a different experience for every audience member. We set about making a work that deals with the future, and with the finite reality of our lifespans. We talked about work that deals with getting old, but is of interest to the young. We talked about grids, squares, curved corners, and introducing more colour into our design palette.  There was also a suggestion at some point that it would be interesting to make a piece that could be performed in either English or German.

So, for the second making period Lucy Ellinson (performer and co-director) and I are travelling to Mannheim having committed to a show structure in which 30 minute performances by a cast of four, for an audience of four, are performed alternately in English and German, up to ten times a day.

I find myself at the point in the making process where the ideas coalesce and I begin to understand what it is we’re making – or trying to make. We have developed a framework into which the individual performers all lace their own material; they have all been developing their own texts between the making periods, and further texts will be contributed by myself, Lucy and Chris Thorpe. I can see a connection in the piece we are making with the future-obsession of Presumption, and I can also recognise connections with recent large-cast creative learning projects Compendium, A History of Objects (both Leeds Met University) and Lifetimes23 (University of Hull @ Scarborough), although it looks like it will work on a scale larger than those projects, even though it has a smaller cast. I’m looking forward to finding out if it works in reality the way it does in my head.

Friday 29 May 2009

Explaining (or trying to) in New York

Our most recent (completed that is - A Perfect Circle is almost signed off) short film, Technology, is screening at the Iron Mule Comedy Film Festival in New York on 6 June.  Full details here.

So far Technology has been shown at Third Angel screenings at the Showroom Cinema in Sheffield and the National Review of Live Art in Glasgow, where it went down really well with audiences.  At each of those events I was able to demonstrate, after showing the film, that I had actually learnt something from the experience of making it, and was able to (almost) properly explain how the idea of light-clocks work (with a big debt to Dr Simon Goodwin at the University of Sheffield). As we won't be accompanying the film to New York (sadly), there will be no such second chance this time.