International Theatre Summer School With Nicole Kehrberger

In Berlin, the beer is cheap, the trains are on time, the streets are clean and men wear their lemon-coloured jeans with pride.

After a whirlwind trip to Berlin, I am back in England. Part-training expedition, part holiday, it’s been more than just a welcome break; it’s been a creative kick-start.


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Expert teacher, Nicole Kehrberger has been putting a group of eager students through its paces in the ‘Game Of The Actor’ workshop, held at her studio near Schillerpark as part of the International Theatre Summer School 2014. The intense warm-ups, body-bending stretches, exciting games and challenging exercises turned my muscles, bones and brains to putty, which Nicole reshaped into something stronger, more agile, more experienced.

The time flew by and I’m genuinely sad to have left. Returning to perennially delayed trains and nondescript weather doesn’t help. Best of luck to the students taking part in the remaining courses with Nicole; expect to sweat a lot.

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The Flare Weekender 2014

Like theatre? Frustrated by the sporadic nature of my updates on my own blog? 

Well, you’re in luck: I’m taking over the Flare Weekender 2014 blog to bring you exclusive interviews, behind-the-scenes posts and reflections on some of the most innovative and exciting contemporary theatre makers working across Europe today. So, expect more of me there instead.

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Moeremans&Sons: My Own Private Disaster

The Flare Weekender 2014 sees 10 different solo theatre-makers and companies come together at Manchester’s Z-Arts on the 13th and 14th June 2014 to bring you an excitingly diverse range of new work. You can enjoy your own private disaster, live-film re-imaginings of Dante’s Inferno, possessions by the spirit of Mick Jagger and a whole dance collections that have been accumulating since the 90s in one body. The weekend is rounded off with workshops, discussions and live music from Gideon Conn in the closing party.

Get your tickets over at the Z-Arts website, with tickets for the whole weekend at just £16. Spaces will be limited so get them quick!

 

Live at LICA: OPEN

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This month I was lucky enough to be one of the recipients of Live at LICA’s inaugural OPEN season of micro-bursaries along with artists Nathan Birkinshaw and Annie Harrison. As well as the cash award, I was put up at the campus and invited to share my ideas with Live at LICA staff in-between the series of open talks and discussions that will inform the future programme at the space.

Getting out of Manchester always represents a welcome change. The simple act of getting on the train to somewhere else makes me feel like my ideas are ‘going places’, but the real appeal is meeting new artists and experiencing new artworks in an unfamiliar environment. New connections and discoveries are made, such as Residence in Bristol who are actively shaping the performance community in their city, or Grizedale Arts who managed to turn my assumptions about the artistic quality and radicalism of community art on their head. Even Toast at New Federation House in Manchester was a revelation – and that’s on my doorstep!

I left Lancaster yesterday afternoon feeling like I’d gorged myself on the rich platter of encounters laid on by Live at LICA and would like to thank all the staff there for this wonderful opportunity, as well as Ali Matthews, Ria Hartley, Hetain Patel, Edwin Burdis and everyone else I chatted to for being so generous with their thoughts and time. I look forward to sharing updates on the progress of my idea.

 

Flying Solo 2014: Reflections

It’s just over a week since I went through the Flying Solo programme at Contact, so I’ve had a bit of time to reflect on the process and what I’ve gotten out of it.

For those unfamiliar with it, eight artists were shortlisted from 50 or so applications and invited to spend time with visiting and resident artists on a series of workshops before pitching their idea for a new solo show to a live audience. The winning artist would receive a £3,000 commissioning fee, as well as marketing and development support from Contact and a network of partner organisations including Fuel, The Albany and MC in Amsterdam.

The eventual winner was Louise Orwin (who had a very exciting pitch idea) but despite missing out on the top spot there were still plenty of positive experiences during the process to draw on: one of the main ones being that I’ve found ways of tapping into a more honest and vulnerable side of myself. I’ve attempted it in the past with Even The Lone Ranger Had Tonto but two year’s accrued experience and confidence has sharpened my delivery. Jo Bannon’s Exposure and Rachel Mars’ workshop were particularly instrumental in teasing this out.

I followed Dominic Berry’s advice beforehand and arrived with a draft pitch before even setting in the workshop space but allowed myself to respond to the exercises and performances. I found myself wanting to change my pitch quite significantly the night before the sharing, and decided to just speak the story I wanted to tell over and over again until a more concrete script stuck in my head (a method that’s not too dissimilar from Victoria Melody’s, I discovered later).  I sandwiched this in between some of the material that was prepared in advance, and made use of ambient sound and live ‘lipstick’ painting to evoke the atmosphere I wanted to create.

I was very proud of the pitch I delivered, and grateful for the relationships I’ve struck up with other artists and the venue staff. It was a real pleasure to be considered amongst such a diverse group of artists and I’ve got a brace of new ideas I want to explore in performance as a result.

DIY10: Neil Bartlett – ‘I Live Here’

DIY10: Neil Bartlett - 'I Live Here'

Anthony Burgess remembered a saying the Irish community in Manchester were fond of repeating back when he was a lad:

‘Would you like the truth or the Big Noise?’

That could be wrong as it’s a while since I read it but I quite like my recollection.

This probably sums up my thoughts on autobiographical performance at the moment: I think most people’s lives have the potential to be very interesting material for performance; on top of what really happens to us we misremember, embellish and falsify events all the time. Subjectivity is invariably more dramatic / exciting / diverting than objectivity (at least, most of the time).

Now the idea of watching or making autobiographical performance has sometimes made me feel faintly queasy in the past because I often worry that people will try and represent the objective truth as accurately as possible and imagination will be turfed out. Cynic that I am, I imagine many people equate autobiography with ‘true story’ without thinking about it (unless you read one so obviously flawed yet entertaining like Adrian Brooks’ book on his time with the Angels Of Light). Thankfully most good performers (and writers, and musicians, and sculptors…) understand that that won’t always make an entertaining outcome.

The idea of 10 performers performing the autobiography of someone else is pleasingly perverse and awkward. What we produced wasn’t completely objectively ‘truthful’ but it was still autobiographical and there were surprising commonalities between all our teenage selves which made it possible to plausibly satisfy the aim of the workshop. We were all 80% water and 20% dread and awkwardness at that age, it seems, and not just the performers; when we went back into our heads I could feel the recognition emanating from the audience too.

I like the idea of re-writing my own history.

It’s part of defining where you want to go, rather than being defined by where you’ve come from. I feel that this workshop has confirmed my intuition that autobiographical performance does not need to be strictly true; that it in fact benefits from artistic license.

One of the main appeals of attending Neil’s workshop (aside from working with Neil) was the possibility that we would be equipped with the tools to mine our personal histories for the purposes of making engaging performance. I wanted to come away from the workshop feeling that I would be able to find some trace of myself. My teenage years have the character of a fog: a hazy appearance, a not-quite-there presence, a shapelessness that is by turns frustrating and liberating. I spent a lot of time carrying around secrets and trying to blend in to such an extent that it seemed like a buried myself under so many layers of self-obfuscation that I well and truly covered my tracks. This weekend I started to retrace them again.

DIY10: Neil Bartlett - I Live Here

I found many of the methods we used for generating material from this difficult period very effective. For instance, presented with a simple stimulus (photos of ourselves, objects we owned / and loved) I found my memories beginning to unfold naturally; the act of remembering begets more remembering.

It was interesting to observe this process happening in myself and other members of the group, noting down the reactions as they happened. For instance, watching Neil remember what he was afraid of at that age and noting the shortness of breath, the repetitions, the tumultuous emotions gave me an anchor I felt I could return to in the performance (one of my other recent preoccupations has been my use of voice, and using my own breathing based on Neil’s was a good exercise for the performance). As a solo artist it’s more challenging to record this information in myself but it’s not too difficult to record this independently nowadays.

Assembling the material collaboratively also revealed interesting techniques that I think I can take away for my own performance. I particularly liked the cut-up patchwork of material we assembled based on our responses to the questions and stimulus we were posing to ourselves. It kept the material fresh and surprising for ourselves as well as the audience. It allowed us to exercise creative freedom over the autobiographical material and puts me in mind of Nabokov’s method of writing on index cards and then ‘dealing’ himself a novel at the end of the process.

Of all the techniques for generating material I’ve found asking my 13 year old self to finish a simple sentence particularly effective. I’ve used this technique in the past week to generate some more writing and found myself jotting away quite comfortably for a good hour. It allows me to enter a certain mindset and focus on a subject for a time, before moving onto another one as whim dictates (for writing invariably begets more writing).

It was a pleasure to be part of the workshop group. I really enjoyed meeting and working with such a diverse range of artists and it was creatively rejuvenating to spend time away from Manchester and spend some dedicated time working on a new idea with an established artist. I continue to find the DIY series of workshops instrumental in my development as an artist.

DIY10: ‘The Deadwood Stage’ With GETINTHEOFTHEVAN

Except for a clip of Windy City on YouTube I’d not seen Calamity Jane before Saturday morning and in less than an hour after watching it, we were doing vocal warm ups with resident pianist and musical director Joe Hood and staging the opening scene in true ‘am dram’ style with everything being a potential role. “We need a Calamity! We need a stagecoach! Let’s have some tumble weed over here! etc”

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The basic ethos was ‘anything goes’ (we could do as much or as little as we liked) but Lucy, Jen and Hester asked us to try throwing ourselves into whatever we did with as much energy and fearlessness as possible and to not shy away from aspects of the original film that are problematic.

I was game: I came hoping to explore endurance and exaggeration and had plenty of opportunities to do so thanks to a relentless can can and song routine playing the part of Francis Fryer. We worked on scenes and techniques for the second half of Saturday and all day today before putting together a performance that was by turns accomplished and ramshackle; sophisticated yet possessing the qualities of naivety and wide-eyed optimism that you might find in a primary school nativity performance.  Some of it was straight up strange.

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We watched the show back and as is probably the case with every other performer I was most concerned with how my own performances read. I enjoyed watching some of what I did and was disatisfied with other bits. I think I’ve seen first hand the difference in my performance work between commitment to a role (running on to announce the arrival of a stage) and exaggeration for exaggeration’s sake (hamming up a western accent for comedic effect). Everyone’s taste is going to be different but the latter felt too sickly sweet for me in comparison to the bits when I was trying to project a more ‘bold but truthful’ interpretation of the role.

I’ve also witnessed a new way of devising a performance based on existing materials. Having seen what it can produce I’m excited to take it further in future.

DIY10: GETINTHEBACKOFTHEVAN; Dickie Beau and Neil Bartlett

We’re over the halfway mark for the year and while the end of the 2013 is in sight (yes, I am looking quite far ahead) there are also fresh beginnings afoot.

This weekend I’ll be heading for a weekend in Cambridge to join GETINTHEBACKOFTHEVAN for ‘The Deadwood Stage’, the first in a series of DIY10 workshops that I’m attending. Facilitated by the Live Art Development Agency, they’re being held by artists across the country throughout the rest of this year. So, later in October I’ll be joining Dickie Beau in London for ‘Immaculate Perceptions’ and then November will see me travelling to Chichester to work with Neil Bartlett for ‘I Live Here’. Over the course of these workshops I will be exploring DIY live art approaches to musical theatre, how the circumstances of one’s birth might impact our later lives and how to excavate one’s own history as a source of material for performance.

There were lots of great workshops to choose from but these three felt the most relevant to my interests at the moment. The very fact that was a consideration is a big testament to the breadth of the DIY series has to offer. I’m looking forward to sharing my experiences with you!