Sunday 25 September 2011

Cape Wrath Storify

Tuesday 20 September 2011

To Cape Wrath

As I write this I am on a coach from Sheffield to Inverness, on my way to Cape Wrath.

In September 1988, when I was 19 and he was in his early 60s, my grandad went on a trip, on his own, from Walsall in the West Midlands, to Cape Wrath. Though not particularly eventful, the story of this trip has been retold by my family over the years. This is the version of the story that I remember:

My grandad set off from Walsall with the intention of visiting Cape Wrath. My grandfather was Scottish, Glasgow born and bred. But I don’t think he had ever been as far north as Cape Wrath before. He used public transport as far as he could, then hitch-hiked the last bit of the journey.

He got dropped off by a postman who told him he would be back in a couple of hours and could pick him up if he liked. So my Grandad sat on the cliff at Cape Wrath “and looked at the sea and thought about my life.”

The postman picked him up a couple of hours later, and he went home.

There's more to it than that, of course, but that's the basics. I've often thought about this journey, in the years since, and what it must have been like to do it. So this week I'm finding out. I can't do the journey exactly the same way as my grandad did it, but I'm doing it as closely as possible.

And I guess that at some point, I'm interested in talking about it, one way or another. We'll see.


UPDATE: More on the actual journey in the next entry.

Monday 5 September 2011

12 Hours

The first couple of hours are the least like performance. The quietest. The most like the devising-room game or task from which the show is born. The most like the three (or now four) of us playing the game by ourselves, with the audience dropping in to see how we're doing.

Mornings are more like a working exhibit for people to interact with. I enjoy the atmosphere of this: the phase where we are still finding our rhythm, getting a handle on the acoustics and layout of the space. We're slowest in these early hours, despite the fact that the smaller number of visitors means we actually have more control over the work-rate. We are working the whole time, we just get through less countries than the 17 or 18 an hour we need to. I'm still getting my drawing-fingers loosened up, Chris is still looking to find his two-word-story-title punning-mojo, Jorge still getting into the groove of the randomised-country-selection-system, and how much he should control the pace. There's more discussion, more digression, more discarded drawings.

It's strange to think of it as 'performance' or 'show' during the morning. It's pre-matinee; pre-lunch. Often, when the audience speak to us in the morning, it is individually, telling just one of us a story - at the drawing table, or across the book, or taking Chris aside by the map - rather than telling the whole room, from their seat.

Although we ran early versions of Story Map for three- and six-hour performances, now we know we can just about get through the whole world in 12 hours, that's the timeframe that interests us. That's what gives us morning starts, and I like the different feel the piece has as we progress through the day.

Lunch time, of course, is when it gets busy. Audience members have food and drink with them. We do, too, going cold behind us. We stop thinking about the time, just keeping the cycle of the piece going. When it gets busy we feel the pressure to entertain, to play to the room more, but we enjoy the shift into doing the task for/with the audience. With the people in the room. And we like, of course, the fact that there are more people to tell us stories.

After lunch people drift away, back to work, out to the shops, back home. By half-past two, three o'clock, it's much quieter. We notice the time again. Have a quick break. Get coffee, have a tidy round after the lunchtime rush.

In the afternoon we're more likely to notice people again as they arrive, welcome them. Families. Kids. We have to think more about the telling of some of the stories, avoiding certain details, making the darker material we have gathered into something more like fairystories. Chris is able to find a role for kids in the stories, or a connection with their own experience.

We pass halfway late in the afternoon, and do our first full count, invariably finding that at the halfway point (time) we are not halfway through (countries). We work out the new hourly rate required for the rest of the day. Someone works out how many minutes per country we have. The dilemma is that we don't just want to charge through, ticking-off countries, the point is to gather, and tell, stories. But we (well, certainly I) do want to complete the task, too. (About) 200 countries in 12 hours. So our concentration does shift; we get quicker at moving on to the next country, we keep the momentum going, and the conversation focussed on the stories of replicas and substitutes that we are seeking.

Tea time. More people come and go. More people dropping in after work. There's a change in the feel of the audience, too. They seem happier to sit and watch, now, only talking when they are certain they have a story to contribute. Perhaps because this is the more normal time for "watching a show", but in early evening, they seem more traditionally "audience"-like.

With two hours to go, the numbers start to build. People who were with us earlier in the day come back. They want to know what they've missed. We get more requests for stories, more stories offered for the countries that are still unclaimed. The show itself is busier now, more theatrical. There's pressure on Chris to tell more stories, whilst Jorge starts to drive us faster, taking over and moving us on. I start to get a backlog of drawings to do. We feel the need here to share/gather stories from the biggest audience, whilst also feeling the pressure to hit the target: we have a very clear minutes/country rate to achieve worked out by now.

And then in the last half an hour we find we have all the time we need. We can slow down. I start to worry that we won't fill the last twenty minutes. We're able to take more story requests. We know the last five countries that we have to do, laid out on Jorge's table, and whether we already have stories about them to share. I enjoy the serendipity of this, how the last country always seems appropriate, somehow.

We name the last name: conventional longform, conventional shortform, local longform, local shortform. We place it on the map. We solicit, or tell, a story. We name the last story. Two words. We illustrate the story and stand the last drawing on the map. Sometimes, sometimes we have a couple of minutes to spare.

Naturally I enjoy the fact that it doesn't end here. People gather round the map, ask what a particular drawing means, which title it relates to; they tell us more stories, ask what will happen to the map.

Photographs here are of Story Map at Hull Truck Theatre on 1 September 2011 as part of Freedom Festival, by Hannah Nicklin. More photos (along with videos and audioboos of some of the stories) are up at, which Hannah set up, and on her Flickr pages.