Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Ragnhild Dale - A Retrospective Bird's Eye View

A Retrospective Bird's Eye View

After ten intensive days of laboratories, exploratories, discussions, talks, blog posts and coffee breaks, the Director's Forum is over and we have all set off in our separate directions, back to our homes or new destinations. An isoteric crystal of experiences has emerged from the forum, where a number of different directors and theatremakers have presented their work through talks, demonstrations, participation and exploration. I feel fairly confident stating that this has marked a shifting point in several people's work and lives. The thin threads tied are so easily forgotten as distance in time and space grows, so what follows is to be a quick review of who presented and worked, as an aid for memory in a time when life moves and images blur.

To clarify a few things before we begin: The structure of the forum was intended to allow for the greatest exchange and multitude of experiences possible, and was a combination of plenaries, laboratories, exploratories and evening presentations. Whilst the exploratories were short, two-hour sessions that gave a small taster of the practitioner's work (or in some cases became attempts at mini-laboratories), the laboratories were five hours sessions for three afternoons, to allow time for work to grow. The instructions to the leaders had been to “do something new”; not to deliver a standard workshop where one learns certain techniques and goes away, but to treat it as a laboratory situation. In other words, a place to test and develop ideas, where the leader could learn just as much as the participants.

The first weekend was dominated by four very different laboratories. Natalie Hennedige (Cake Theatre) threw her participants into an exploration of characters from her theatrical work, experimenting with improvisation and group work. Ralf Richardt Strøbech (formerly Hotel Pro Forma) tested Darwinian and evolutionary theories on the working process of the theatre, allowing for natural selection but aiming for survival of the fittest genes for performance. Julian Maynard Smith (Station House Opera) started a backwards revolution, whilst Richard Gregory (Quarantine) revealed some of his groups' working methods and ideologies, in addition to inviting unknowing Aberystwythians to an afternoon tea party.

Three different exploratories were run every day – some as a taster of the laboratory, others as one-off events. In addition to the laboratory leaders, Olya Petrakova and Bryan Brown (ARTEL) played around with surrealist games and a physical technique they call “Bodystorming” - brainstorming only with the body in place of the metaphor. Richard Gough dug out his game of “the Chairs”, which for some was a welcome return, and for others a completely new experience. Peader Kirk (MKultra) invited a peek into some of his working methods, as did Sally Sussman (Australian Performance Exchange) with an anthropological experiment of intercultural exchanges and the difficulties it brought out. The choice was tough and the programme could easily have covered a full year, so the evenings were devoted to presentations from the workshop leaders and discussion of what had gone on in each one. Plenaries were also a chance to learn more about what each of the directors or theatremakers did and had done in their professional life.

The second round of laboratories presented different, but equally exciting opportunities to learn and develop both for leaders and participants. Veenapani Chawla (Adishakti) brought the Ramayana with her to examine from a directorial perspective, giving her group an insight into Indian myth and her own thought process. Adrian Jackson (Cardboard Citizens) also laid parts of his working methods bare, presenting a problem of vast amounts of material for his new performance, where he asked the group to act as consultants to begin the editing process. The director of Das Beckwerk explored his new writing on the theatre of humiliation and the performer as medium, and Ruth Kanner brought not just words and texts, but a large part of her ensemble to work alongside with the participants. They explored written material, words, and numbers as means of expression, and the forum participants were also privileged to see extracts from several of their performances in the evenings.

The exploratories were going strong all the way through, with tasters of several as Mike Pearson , Bill Hamblett (Small World Theatre), and Marnie Orr (ROCKface) got the chance to test, talk about, and demonstrate some of their work. Coming from very different backgrounds, the themes were the “in all languages”-work, theatre as part of international aid, and an introduction to Bodyweather training, respectively. Much of this was repercussioned in discussions and presentations, and once again the desire to split oneself in three (or more) to be part of everything was inevitable.

The final weekend took a more discursive format with presentations and discussions, and was to see more directors coming and a great deal from the first weekend returning. However, due to nature's unforeseen events (which will also be remembered as the Icelandic volcano no one could pronounce), some were forced to remain in their home countries (and others again forced to remain behind in the UK afterwards). Ralf Strøbech could not return for the gathering to further discuss his ideas, and was forced to give a presentation over Skype instead, to share his work with those who had not been present and answer questions from those who had saved them for his return. Tore Vagn Lid (Transiteatret) from Norway suffered the same fate, but delivered an interesting talk on his work and theories of merging music and theatre to orchestrate and interweave elements of the performance on several levels. Their presence was sorely missed, as their work was highly relevant to the discussions that took place, and they would have contributed both original views and strong opinions.

Of those who did make it over for the final weekend, Anders Paulin was a new addition, talking about his work at the Royal National Theatre in Copenhagen. He is using the space to question what a national theatre is and can be, and his project on the temporary national theatre within the structures of the permanent one, was both challenging and thought-provoking. Lines can be drawn from this back to the presentation on the first day by John McGrath from National Theatre Wales, together with Mike Pearson who will be directing a production for them later this year. Moving the theatre out of its traditional building, they aim to bring it to the people of Wales instead, and engage with all the valleys and remote places over the next couple of years. An insight into contemporary Croatian theatre, as well as a discussion on the relationship between directing and dramaturgy, was given by Marin Blazevic (University of Zagreb).

Between presentations, laboratories and exploratories, there were plenary sessions that took the form either of talks or of more interactive exchanges, facilitated by Richard Gough and Peader Kirk who took turns to get the talk going. They kicked off valuable exchanges of information, broken by more intimate moments and genuine time to ponder, raise questions and attempts to trace old tracks and stake out new directions. The forum became a group of distinct practitioners, directors, theatre-makers, performers and scholars, but also a group of colleagues within theatre. This was, perhaps, the greatest achievement of the conference: to create an environment of reciprocity and respect, where all were able to contribute and have a real say in the debates. We leave with no clearer definitions or working agendas than we had as we set out, but with new questions and perplexities about the heart of our practice, as well as the certainty that somewhere out there are others who are facing difficult and exiting challenges that may or may not be similar to our own, but are connected to the very roots of our craft – and with that affirmation, we set out on our quest for further discoveries.

Ragnhild Dale on Peader Kirk Facilitating the Sharing of Experiences

The last two days of the Gathering saw more of the creative facilitations that had opened up for exchange of experiences the previous day. Peader's morning session on Saturday was a meeting not just of directors, but of designated experts on the topic, who were there to give and receive advice. We were all asked to think about a real problem we had encountered in the process of directing, that was specific enough to be answered, and could be as personal as we liked. The space was rearranged so that two and two chairs faced each other, and the advicees took their places whilst the experts joined them. We had two minutes to talk and discuss, and the setting created in intimate, confidential chat where we had the chance to discuss some of the key issues of our craft on a very personal level. After having been through a few swaps of people, the roles were swapped, so that the experts became the ones asking for advice and vice versa.

Exactly what was discussed in the pairs is to remain between them – no plenary discussion of the content was either wanted or needed at the end. What did come up, was a sense that something had taken place between the people who had been talking, and that this something had been of great value. Many were surprised that they had been able to offer advice on what they thought they would not have been able to, and indeed the answers often lay within the questioner him- or herself. The verbalization of a problem is often the first step to solving it, and being given the time and space, as well as an attentive listener was a great help in this respect. As directors, we so often work alone, that it was a great reassurance to hear that others, both those with a great deal of experience and those that are just beginning their creative lives, were facing some of the same problems and grappling with the same slippery substances of creativity and concrete problems.

This was followed up in the afternoon, and indeed the day after, with quotes and phrases we often use as directors as starting points for discussion. From giving specific instructions to sharing food, all aspects of rehearsal and performance were discussed, and the constant shift of partners meant you never stayed on the same subject for long, but skipped on to the next important issue and found that you had common views to people with very different roots from your own. But again, this was hardly surprising, given what results had been reached in the days before. Exploration, building of the ensemble, the actor as an individual, and the other members of the creative team as persons in their own right, were themes that kept cropping up and which seemed to be crucial to most people's work.

These sessions also highlighted in a practical sense how important facilitation and building of a safe environment is, irrespective of theatrical tradition or approach to performance. Part of the director's task is to create a place for the actors to work in, that is safe and secure for them to experiment, explore and bond as a group, before they are ready to take the instructions from the director. Without the necessary pointers and cushions in place, working together is difficult and may not yield the desired results. When done well, however, the facilitation sets off an exciting process where the fun of theatre is allowed space to grow alongside more serious matters, and it is precisely at this interplay between play and seriousness exiting things happen and the performance may start to take shape. We understand through doing, and through doing we come to realize just how important this aspect of our practice is.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Tracey Evans on her experience at the Directors' Forum

What an action-packed, squeezed-tight programme, the staff at CPR have created in presenting their inspirational Directors Forum, which is just about to finish its 10-day run.
Having a full-time job means that it would be impossible to take part in the proceedings, but cleverly, they split the overall programme into 3x 3-day blocks, so you might do all 3, or just one or two. I attended the middle block and this is my creative impressionistic response (I was far too inspired by the forum to try to anlayse, abstract and deconstruct!)
Exploratories [a one off 2-hour workshop to explore an aspect of each directors' work/process]
I worked with:
Marnie Orr
Explored aspects of Bodyweather Laboratory practice- zero point- moving without 'comment'- points of departure and arrival- directions- trajectories- resting- recognising and responding toimpulse. We worked in the studio and outdoors.
Natalie Hennedige from Cake Theatre in Singapore
Natalie has won loads of awards for her theatre work in Singapore: she has a wonderful,activating and empowering energy. Explored ways of 'scratching the surface' with an ensemble.....layering action with text and sound as an architecture in theatre.....very strong texts written by search for a common language in all senses, not limitied to the verbal.
Mike Pearson
What a wonderful workshop-Mike is a fantastic workshop leader....lots of background to the exploration before launching into physical explorations. Working on his ways in to exploring his 4-man chorus for The Persians...we were introduced to his very precise system of working developed over his career and currently being documneted by Loiuse Ritchie on her PhD: In all Languages....exploring action, text, scenography, soundtrack and technology, sliced by time and titles, layered with gesture, articulations and mediations. Can't wait to see the chorus in the NTW production in the Beacons!
There were loads of other exploratories- see CPR blog for info.
Laboratories [3 afternoons spent with one director in a laboratory where lots of elements are brought in/out, mixed, tested and experimented with]
I worked with:
Veenapani Chawla, Artistic Director, Adishakti Theatre Laboratory, Pondicherry, India
We worked on The Ramayana, an epic Indian text, which preceded The Mahabharata.
Concerns lay with: How do we present contemporary performance based on such a huge epic myth?
Veenapani's advice: choose moments......moments that inspire us, that catapult us out of the text, into the cosmos, where we begin to imagine this moment on a stage, drawing parallels with other stories and texts, myth-based, modern, narrative-based, plays.......Choose these moments and 'flesh them out' with these other layers, drawing on all signifiers that are when words are not enough, movement when puppetry runs dry....until we begin to find and present the human context in the mix, to allow the greatest degree of accessibility for an audience.
Another major question for discussion/exploration: what relationship do these new pieces that we create, based on well-known myths, have with the original texts? The group agreed strongly, that we needed to create new,contemporary* texts that could stand alone. Mentioning the original text acts as an 'opener' for audiences, an anchor, a gateway. The aim is always to find the human experience in the story, and this is what remains constant.
I was fortunate enough to see Veenapani's company perform 'Ganapati' when I visited India 5 years ago- Adishakti's work is incredibly intensive: in both training and performance...working with rhythm as an inner text, launching from Indian performance systems, but creating a contemporary* theatre that is incredibly engaging, spirited, and precise.
[* Veenapani gave her explanation of contemporary theatre as those performances in which we can look at any moment through all lenses/which in theatre are the signifiers available to us: text/action/sound/music/ technology/scenography.]
Other laboratories were given by:
Adrian Jackson,Cardboard Citizens,UK
Das Beckwerk, Denmark
Ruth Kanner, Ruth Kanner Group,Israel
Thanks to all the staff at CPR for organising such an inspirational forum opportunity right on our doorstep!

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Beginnings in new light: session with Peader Kirk

Peader was given free reigns again Friday afternoon, in what was the second plenary of the Gathering's first day. He used this opportunity to redo what had been done before, posing questions about beginnings and rethinking of roots. The structure was much like it had been before; a moment of epiphany, your family tree, your first performance and your real motivation, but with the addition of seeds and a picture of your homeland. For those who had not been part of the first set of laboratories, this was both a catch-up and chance to think about their own beginnings and legacies.

Reflections on the Gathering, Day 1 – raising questions and beginning debates

What is a director? What is his or her role? Where does s/he come from? This morning's session began with an open session to ask questions – a retrospective look on what we wished we had talked about in an ideal gathering, to open these points for discussion during the days to come. The idea of the Gathering is, at this point, to address some of these key issues with those who have made it to Abwrystwyth at this very point in time. This will be a recount of some views expressed in the plenary, though due to the unforeseen circumstances of a volcanic eruption in Iceland, our Scandinavian particpants Ralf Strøbech and Tore Vagn Lid had been forced to remain in their home countries. A reminder both of the unexpected nature of our work, and just how vulnerable we still are to the forces of nature around us. As technology has, however, taken a few steps further, they will be joining us by Skype.