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.