Back in November we spent four weeks working on our new show, The Life & Loves of a Nobody. At the start of the month we pulled together our existing research from a variety of sources:
- A 30 minute solo piece Rachael had written and performed a couple of years ago, called All About The Full Stops, about a girl who runs away to the circus, looking for love and escape (and doesn't find either).
- Some more recent texts Rachael wrote in response to a week's R&D at ARC (thank you team ARC!) in September, and for mala voadora & Mundo Perfeito's 10 Anos Marathon Performance in October.
- Research about the life of Joseph Grimaldi (particularly The Pantomime Life of Joseph Grimaldi by Andrew McConnell Stott).
We talked about circuses, talent shows, entertainment as social control. We watched some Black Mirror and some Hunger Games. We revisited Chris Bachelder's Bear v Shark. We talked about how contestants on (things like) The X-factor talked about how this was their "one chance", their "only chance", how they "couldn't go back" to their other lives. And we thought about how those opportunities to escape always seem to be to allow one person to escape a long way, at the expense of those around them, rather than helping everyone escape by a shorter distance.
We were joined by devisor performer Nick Chambers (who worked with us on The Lad Lit Project, and have wanted to work with again since then) and designer Andrew Stephenson (an exciting development for us, as Rachael and I usually lead on design ourselves). We began to build a life story out of those conversations, and talk about the entertainment of the future. Much of our original material began to fall away, as we began to explore new territory as a new team: the four of us jointly devising the world of the show, Rachael leading on pinning down the route through it.
We moved to Theatre in the Mill for the last week of November, where we were joined by Sound Designer Ivan Mack and, for a couple of days, Chris Thorpe. Chris asked some useful, difficult questions, closing some avenues of exploration, and opening others. Ivan began to build a soundscape out of the physical tasks that we had brought into the theatre. The rest of the team at Theatre in the Mill gave us the time and space and support we needed (thank you team Theatre in the Mill).
When we're making work, we're often trying to find, is what the task of telling the story is in this project, how that task explores what we want the show to be about. By this point on The Life & Loves of a Nobody, we were using the phrase "storybook" to describe how the show works, and building images for different chapters. And the show was in traverse. The process felt like a familiar, older one. And here's a thing. I don't know if other companies do this, but when we're making new work we talk (to each other at least), about which of our earlier shows the new show shares a heritage with. Which point does the new piece branch off from? With this piece we feel a connection back through 9 Billion Miles from Home, through Believe The Worst, to Experiment Zero and The Killing Show. It's the feel of the world, the balance of narrative, text, task and the visuals and environment of the show. I'm excited about that.
At the end of the week we showed a 45 minute version of the show, and had a really good conversation with the audience afterwards - who asked some useful questions, and gave some useful, surprising, encouraging answers.
Then we immediately went to spend two weeks on a new show with mala voadora, as part of Warwick Arts Centre's Triggered programme (thank you team WAC) then it was you know, Christmas and New Year, and then it was this week.
We're back at base, as it were, in the Lyceum Theatre rehearsal room (thank you team Sheffield Theatres, our co-producers). Two days in and we've been reflecting on what we've got, asking ourselves what the show is, refining the rules. Reconstructing the narrative. Better understanding what the task of the story telling is. Building on what we have - nearly all of what we showed in Bradford is still there - developed and re-ordered. Adding song and dance. And Andrew has brought in some great, specialised gubbins for the structure of the set. Look...