Sunday, 29 December 2013


The Dog and Partridge, Sheffield. December 2003.
"I've heard - and it's probably an urban myth - that the best way of acquiring a taste for Guinness, is to drink three pints of it as fast as you possibly can."
A real task, performed for the first time. In a pub, with friends. Somewhere in between documentary and documentation of live performance, An Acquired Taste is a touching film about what we carry with us from our childhood to our adulthood. About family. And about drinking.
An Acquired Taste (2003)
A film by Christopher Hall & Alexander Kelly

Photography by Robert Hardy & Hilary Foster
Sound by David Mitchell & Jacqui Bellamy
Funded by Arts Council England, Yorkshire and supported by Site Gallery, Sheffield.

Programme Notes

ALEX: The idea to do this – the drinking-three-pints-to-acquire-the-taste-for-Guinness idea – originally came up as something to do in a show. I can’t remember what process it came up in for the very first time, but I think the fact that it only made sense to do it once – it only makes sense the “first time” – meant we didn’t pursue it for that project. It felt too stand-alone.

It came in to my mind again in 1999, when I was part of the Legacy Project at Arnolfini and Prema (a brilliant experience with 6 other artists, about which there is more to be written at some point), which was planned to conclude with a one-off, unrepeatable performance. So an action that could “only be performed once” seemed appropriate, and I remember talking to Ju Row Far about it. But that project went off on its own direction, and the three pints idea didn’t fit.

After that I remember thinking that as the action was only significant when performed for the first time, then I should probably perform it for camera. In 2002, Chris and I had recorded me reading a set of postcardsthat my dad had sent me from America when I was a kid, and I thought that a similar set up would work for the Guinness drinking: a bare space, me and the pints, and then, using a workshop/devising task format we find useful, perform the task then immediately talk about the experience - reflect out loud without planning what to say.

I talked to Chris about it and he immediately said yes, we should do it, but that we should do it in a pub and invite friends, and most importantly, get my dad along. It was this instinct of Chris’ that makes this into a film, for me, rather than documentation of a performance event, or live art for camera – though it obviously contains those things.

We went to one of the two (I think) real Irish pubs in Sheffield, the Dog & Partridge, one Sunday lunchtime.

CHRIS: Alex asked me to write about An Acquired Taste for the blog. I like reading about films, I like watching and talking about them and I really like making them. The fact that I’ve written two articles in over twenty years of making them is an indication that I’m not so keen on writing about them. As with Pills, we’ve spoken a fair bit over the last decade about the how and why, so as with the Pills blog entry I thought I’d share some stuff that you may not have heard or read before today.

We shot a full technical rehearsal the day before, on location, without extras using blackcurrant cordial instead of Guinness. I’ve never viewed the tapes, but they’re labeled and stored in the archive right next to the actual tapes that were used in the final film.

ALEX: This is news to me. Was I there?

CHRIS: A sixth camera was used on the day of the shoot but went into auto-shut down mode just before we started, we turned it on again but forgot to check focus. The footage was unusable.

As soon as Alex said “I’ll share it with you, Dad” I knew I had my last line. I tried various endings out during the editing, but always this was the ending with resonance and truth.

There are a couple of trims throughout the film which mean that the main task of drinking the Guinness doesn’t happen in real time.

ALEX: This is also news to me! We set about filming without knowing how long it would take me to do. There used to be a pub in Sheffield with an Eight Pint Club (or something like that), and their best times were up on the wall in the bar. They were all under an hour, most of them under 20 minutes. The fastest something like 4 minutes. I knew I wouldn’t be anywhere near that league, and in fact it was possible that I would hate the taste so much it would take me over an hour. If that was the case, the plan was to exhibit it as a multi-screen gallery piece, rather than short film. (Respect to Arts Council Yorkshire, and particularly Adrian Friedli, for investing in that risk with us).

CHRIS: Like all of the split-screen work that I do I’m always striving to do something better than Scorsese’s work in the Elvis On Tour film.

ALEX: And that’s the second thing, of course, that makes it the film it is.

CHRIS: The sound that you hear of Alex drinking was made during the final sound mix session in a mixing room in London. It’s the sound of a sound assistant drinking a pint of water.

ALEX: Cheating. And the fruit machine is dubbed on, too, isn’t it?

CHRIS: The moment of silence whilst Alex is drinking the final few gulps is there as one of the audience / friends / supporters gave a loud and disproportionately rousing ‘YESS!’, as Alex finished drinking, unbalancing the tone of the climax.

ALEX: Again, cheating. Or rather, shifting the balance of what the film is about. Although the film is clearly, on one level, about (the act of) drinking, to us it was about more than that. We showed a rough cut to our friend Deborah Chadbourn, who over the years has given us some brilliant advice. She said what she liked about it, as a parent, was watching my dad watch me take the challenge. “Just watching to see how your doing.” When Deborah said that, I knew it had worked, that the task had allowed us to make a film about something bigger.

CHRIS: I hope you enjoy it.

ALEX: Me too. And a final note. One of the things I love about this project, is that as well as the friends who joined us for a drink, the whole core team were long term collaborators who had worked with us on our first two projects (the 72 hour multi media performance Testcard, and the short film With The Light On, in 1995 and 1996): Chris making and editing, David Mitchell and Jacqui Bellamy on sound, Robert Hardy and Hilary Foster on camera.

Monday, 9 December 2013

Monthly Film: PILLS 03:20:00

This month (well, three months in that already seems a bit arbitrary, but anyway), the monthly film is an old favourite that always went down really well at our Playing With Time screenings: Pills 03:20:00.

Back in 2000 we were making a number of projects to do with happiness.  I’d been keeping a list in my notebook of “Modern Pills”, just the titles, things that sounded like they would be useful. I took them in to the making process for Where From Here, and Rachael and Jerry improvised explanations of them – like a TV show. It was funny, but it was like a TV show.

Where From Here is constructed around a series of stories and descriptions of the rooms those stories take place in, told by one performer/character in turn, in order to implicate the other. Jerry came in the next day with a short speech that would work as a solo intro to the Pills sequence – suggesting that they were something the man enjoyed on his own.

For a while we experimented with projecting images of the pills onto the white set, but as the show became lower tech projection was ruled out. But we liked the pictures of the pills, so they became a piece in their own right, Pills For Modern Living, with the text borrowing from the show.

When we came to document the whole piece, we made a full length video of it (90 minutes), and then Chris suggested we make another stand-alone short. We asked him what we had in mind.

Over to Chris:
Alex has just asked me to write a couple of hundred words about Pills. There are quite a lot of facts about the how and the why of this film that we’ve shared over the years, at screenings, in articles and within lectures.  
Here are some bits and bobs about the film that I’ve kept to myself until now: 
From the very first time I saw Jerry do the monologue on stage I thought to myself – that’s a good monologue but I could put it into better order. In all of the stage shows since I've actively looked for monologues which I could adapt into something similar. I’ve only tried it once and that film was screened once (it didn’t work).  
With Pills 03:20:00, and the other two films which have their length in timecode as part of their titles, I genuinely hoped would start a fashion for that kind of titling.  
I’ve never known whether they are real drugs or whether he’s taking the piss out of her.  
The sound design is directly influenced by the title track of the Prince album Lovesexy, and the visuals are influenced by an experimental film that a fellow student made at film school, where a mans heads was shot through a lens with a stocking stretched over it.  
For many years if you'd asked me what the main colour was, I would have said yellow. Until a few years ago I was always surprised when I saw it was blue, and then I would remember all the other times when I'd surprised myself by misremembering. 
For the record, the visuals were achieved (I think) in the end by Chris re-shooting the footage of a TV monitor in the edit suite – possibly onto VHS, or even VHS-C. I seem to remember that VHS was in play a fair bit back then.


Pills 03:20:00

Performed by Jeremy Killick (with Rachael Walton in there briefly)
Text by Alexander Kelly, Jeremy Killick & Rachael Walton
Directed by Christopher Hall, Alexander Kelly & Rachael Walton
Edited by Christopher Hall
Soundtrack by Christopher Hall, David Mitchell & Lee Sykes

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Introducing Hannah, Third Angel Fellow, courtesy of the BBC Performing Arts Fund

This morning we are extremely happy and excited to announce that we've been awarded one of 19 BBC PAF Theatre Fellowships. The £10,000 award will enable us to work with emerging theatre maker Hannah Butterfield in 2014 to develop a new piece of her own work with our support, and draw her into Third Angel's process as she joins us as dramaturg on our 2014/15 piece Paradise.

Alongside her creative development, we'll boost her producing and management skills so that she can take her work out into the world with, we hope, a toolkit of resources, experience and a little black book full of contacts.

Hannah works across an impressive range of disciplines, from singing to choreography to writing and performing, and is already in demand as a creative collaborator. Actually, I'll let you tell you in her own words:

My name is Hannah Butterfield. I am a theatre maker and facilitator based in Leeds. Sometimes I am Hannah Butterfield, choreographer. And workshop leader. Sometimes I’ll be a vocal coach, and sometimes a writer. Occasionally I am a musician. Quite frequently I am one third of The Souvenirs Theatre company. I am always an explorer.
I currently have a piece of 'unmade' work I would like to develop. The piece is currently a text I wrote in response to a task set by Alex Kelly when I was an MA student. I spent a day sitting in Leeds train station ‘at work in the world’ observing, imagining and remembering. I thought a lot about travel, about saying hello and saying goodbye and for hours considered the effect of modern ticket barriers on romance. I went on to write a performance score that I have been desperate to use! I would love for this work to become an ensemble theatre piece.

Hannah also runs a children's choir in Bradford and teaches at the Arden School of Theatre.

We're particularly happy to have this opportunity because Third Angel has been mentoring early and mid career artists for many years, and we know that opportunities for theatre makers are even fewer and further between that those for performers, directors and producers. There is no established career path for someone who makes their own work. We all need the next generation to get a foothold, or the whole ecology starts to disintegrate. We're looking forward to being able to see what working with an artist over six months, as opposed to six days, does for both mentee and mentor; learn lessons from our experience and then see if it's possible to offer a similar opportunity again.

Some of our very generous partners are going to help us to make the Fellowship as helpful to Hannah as we can: DepArts, Theatre in the Mill, Slung Low, Point Blank and Sheffield Theatres are all lending time, space and expertise, for which we're extremely grateful.

Our mentoring relationships are never one way, and we know we'll gain a lot from working with Hannah, on her piece and on Third Angel's. We hope it's the start of a beautiful friendship and future collaboration.

There's more information on the BBC Performing Arts Fund here, and a full list of fellowships here.