Sunday, 28 July 2013

Psalter Lane, five years on

[If you haven't seen this accidental series before, you might want to click here, for previous instalments, as that will help explain what's going on.]

And now it really feels like it's gone. Even once it had been demolished and cleared, I had a sense that the remains of Psalter Lane Campus were still there. I could imagine the vanished buildings on the empty site. Remember the canteen, the car park, the studio blocks, like ghosts standing around the Old Library.

But now the site is being over written.

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Edinburgh Blogpost 3: Postcards from Paris and Rio

Written for the British Council's Edinburgh Showcase blog, (here).

June 2013
Postcards from Paris and Rio
I’m writing this on the way home from Rio De Janeiro, where we’ve had a brilliant time at the Cena Brasil Internacional festival.

Rio de Janeiro is the furthest I’ve ever been from home, and standing on the beach this afternoon, being the map-obsessive that I am, I was keenly aware that I was the furthest south I have even been. I took a screen grab of my GPS location and took a photo of the view.

All of which is to say that this obsession with my location on the planet, in relation to the place I call home, is one of the starting points for this show. And if any of our shows really ought to take the opportunity to try itself out in front of audiences in other countries, it is this one. This is what we’ve being saying about you. We tell a story about Brazil in the show. Each country is represented by a single story. (Before Rio we were in Paris, and the show tells a story about France, too). And the reception for the work was great – and I think they liked our admission that in our Brazillian story, when Chris plays music, he plays “something Spanish, because normally, no one can tell the difference.”

For Paris and Rio we were performing the Portuguese version of the show, meaning two different sets of surtitles, new ones for Paris, and the existing Portuguese surtitles for the English text for Rio. As ever, the existing surtitles needed updating, prompting a discussion about how to represent the freer sections of the show in the fixed medium of projected text.

We like the presence of the surtitles – we have them to a greater or lesser extent in every version of the show – and for at least half of the show it is straightforward for them to give a precise version of what is said on stage, as these stories are crafted and precisely written. However, the show has several sections where Jorge, Chris and I tell the same story, explain the same idea, but using much looser language, responding to each other, the audience, and any moments of inspiration that strike. Consequently the exact text varies from night to night, and evolves over time, as we find new jokes and ideas to play with. There are also two different stories in the show each performance, drawing on the bank of stories we’ve been told during the life of the project.

How can/should the surtitles represent this? As many audience members use the surtitles to double check their understanding of the text, is it off putting if the text is only giving an idea of what is being said, rather than a line-by-line translation? Can the formatting of the surtitles indicate when they’re just giving an idea of what is being said? What happens if the surtitles just take a break? They’re improvising…

The preferred option will be different for each audience member of course. But as this a key part of the way a section of the audience understand the show, it feels important to explore this, and keep playing with it.

Workshops (etc)
Another great thing about Cena Brasil is the invitation to stay for the whole festival, so as to see as much other work as possible (and we saw some great work, the programme was really exciting), and to run, and take part in, workshops and talks: sharing ideas, techniques, processes, with companies from around the world.

Running workshops (from 3 hours to several months) is something Third Angel does a lot of, and Cena Brasil was a change to further develop a workshop based on the processes of making What I Heard About the World. This is something that has proved tricky to do in half-day workshops, because of how research-dependent this show is. But the two-day workshop format offered in Rio meant we could explore the ideas more. Chris, Jorge and I jointly ran a workshop that ended being delivered/presented in English, Portuguese, Spanish and French, which felt entirely appropriate, the our participants came up with some great, thoughtful, responses.

Exotic Animal Update
In Paris they found us a full-size, “teenage” giraffe – to stand in for the Parisian giraffe we have on the Portuguese set. In Rio they went English style and acquired a stag’s head.

Actual Edinburgh Preparation
Meanwhile, as all of this touring was going on, we signed off on print designs, the Fringe Brochure came out, venues announced their programmes, and the ‘What to See’ blogposts and articles began. And a couple of days after that, we announced the full line up of work that we’re showing in Edinburgh this year.

As well as returning for the Showcase, we’re opening a newshow for the first time. Cape Wrath is a solo performance in a minibus, (also at St Stephen’s) telling the parallel stories of two journeys – mine and my grandfather’s – from England, through Scotland, up to Cape Wrath, the most North-westerly point on the British mainland. I’ll be performing the piece twice a day from the 9th of August. Chris and I are also contributing to The Bloody Great Border Ballad Project at St Stephen’s; I have collaborated on Hannah Nicklin’s A Conversation With My Father, and Third Angel is making a new one-off performance, The Desire Paths, for the event Make. Do. And Mend. – all at St Stephen’s, too, that last one in collaboration with Forest Fringe. Chris also has a new play opening at St Stephen’s, and a new show created with Hannah Jane Walker at Forest Fringe. Add our breakfast performances of What I Heard About the World in Showcase week, and you’ll see that we have a very busy schedule.

After a lay-off of a couple of months, I’ve just started running again. I’m going to need to be fit. I ran every other day in Edinburgh last August – I’m not sure I’ll have time this year.

Friday, 26 July 2013

Edinburgh Blogpost 2: Postcard from Poland

I'm writing a 'preparing for Edinburgh' blog for the British Council - over here. For completeness I'm posting them here, too, after a short delay, as that seems to be etiquette.

May 2013
Postcard from Poland

We’ve just returned from the Teatromania festival in Bytom, Poland, where we presented What I Heard About the World. This is the start of a short international tour – Paris and Rio de Janeiro next month – which serves as a very nice precursor to taking the show back to Edinburgh for the British Council’s Showcase at the end of August.

This weekend in Bytom was the first time we had performed the show since last August in fact, which we split between the Edinburgh Fringe and the Stage at Helsinki festival. In Edinburgh last year we were fortunate enough to be part of the fantastic programme of work at Northern Stage at St Stephen’s, which was simply the best Edinburgh experience we’ve ever had. So I’m really pleased that Northern Stage have been able to accommodate us again as a late addition to the St Stephen’s programme, because we know that the space is right for the show, and the venue ethos one that completely values the work.

However, because we are a late addition, we’re taking a very early slot in the day – 9.30am. In any other city or any other festival this would be unheard of. But the idea of Theatre for Breakfast has been growing in Edinburgh over the last few years, we have a swathe of great reviews from last year’s festival and we’ll be giving out free pastries to the audience. So we’ll be aiming to entice international promoters away from the Showcase breakfasts for one morning of the week, and to lure audiences out of their accommodation that little bit earlier in the day. It is something of a gamble, but most of us will be in Edinburgh anyway, and being part of the Showcase is too good an opportunity to miss.

In fact, our Edinburgh schedule is remarkably busy, but we’re asked to keep the details of it under wraps until the Fringe Brochure is published and our venues announce their programmes at the end of May. So more on that next time, perhaps.

At Teatromania we were presenting the UK version of the show. What I Heard About the World is a co-production with mala voadora, a company based in Lisbon, and our partners Sheffield Theatres and Teatro Maria Matos. We tour two versions of the show. The UK version is performed in English, with a couple of minutes of French (surtitled) and of Portuguese (not surtitled). In the Portuguese version Chris Thorpe and I perform in English (surtitled) and Jorge Andrade performs in his native Portuguese and also English. One particular story is performed by Jorge in Portuguese rather than by Chris in English…

Consequently, we have two versions of the set - a strange hybrid of living space and locker room - that we can tour from Sheffield or from Lisbon. This appeals for practical reasons, but also because a theme of the show is one of authenticity – and the use of replicas or substitutes. So, rather than rely on freight, we can drive the set ourselves to a good area of Europe.

However, following our successful experience with Presumption (presented in the Showcase in 2007) of having sets re-made for us by festivals in Moscow and Yerevan, we have embraced the same attitude for this show. If a venue is too far for us to drive to, they have been sourcing a replica, or perhaps more accurately, a substitute set for us.

My favourite challenge in this is that venues are invited to find for us an “exotic animal”. In the Portuguese set, the animal is a real, stuffed giraffe (well, the head and neck, anyway), acquired, as I understand it, from a night club in Lisbon. The UK version features a two taxidermy sculptures by artist and film maker Susannah Gent, a stag’s head and rampant fox. In Helsinki they provided us with a gothic looking owl to perch on set. And in Bytom they set the bar pretty high for future set & props gatherers, as we turned up to find a full-size replica zebra. Where did they get it? “It’s our office zebra,” they explained.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

SONGMAP at Millennium Gallery for PRISM 14 & Tramlines

We'll be showing the live and screen versions of Songmap at the Millennium Gallery, Sheffield, as part of this year's Tramlines Festival. The live performance is at 8pm on Friday 19 July, and the film version will run on a loop on Saturday and Sunday. It's all part of a free PRISM / Tramlines event - see the brilliant line up below. It's great to be on the same bill as 65daysofstatic after all this time... if you don't know their stuff I really recommend checking them out.

Songmap is a live drawing performance made to accompany Arab Strap's The First Big Weekend (needless to say I recommend checking them out, too, if you haven't yet) and was was originally made as part of Words & Pictures for Unlimited's lovely Mixtape project. More on all of that here.