Having done a few creative developments of small-scale projects I wanted to explore something on a bigger canvas. The work I’d been doing, had been exploratory, but had become script-based. I’d spend a lot of time researching and writing: working stuff out before we played. We’d then explore and embellish on the floor, perform something, and then back I’d go to the script to redraft. Along the way I’d worked with some marvellous artists as well, and I wanted to design a project that would invite them to not only bring life to something I’d conceived, but contribute to its conception.
In up-scaling, I thought the proscenium arch of a really big theatre might be a good place to play, using it as both a screen and live space, but in such a way as you couldn’t tell what was live and what was projected. I also wanted to see if I could link the emerging project with other stakeholders on the national, rather than just the Queensland stage.
I don’t think becoming a parent makes you an expert in children. If anything it reveals how little you know. I’m also skeptical about artists assuming that once they become parents it follows that they’ll know more about children’s theatre. Rubbish. Ironically, though, behind the scenes, though, I’d been collecting fragments of my son’s developing speech. It’s natural for a parent to be knocked out by the stuff their kid says, but as I collected these beautiful and strange statements narrating the world of the three and four year-old, I thought they might be the basis of a play- or at least a playwriting methodology. I approached this methodology with extreme caution, not only because of IP issues in dealing with material created by a minor (I asked his permission, though a a five year old can hardly offer informed consent) but also because of the damage that authors have done to their children by using their children’s lives as material for literature (see A.A. and Christopher Milne)
It’s common to disparage a work of art by saying ‘a three-year old could have done that’. I wanted to privilege and frame their words (starting with my son’s words, but the idea was I’d involve more kids later on). Imagine a visual theatre piece for pre-schoolers where the text is by pre-schoolers. Yeah! In my later research, I stumbled across this statement by Roger McGough, who sums up the kind of poetic energy early language has.
“They [children] make disparate links, in the way Aristotle says; they see things that we don’t normally see. They make connections all the time, and the way they use words, ‘Dad, the candle’s crying.’ And we say, ‘No, the candle isn’t crying; the candle isn’t crying, it’s the molecules agitated by the heat …’ There’s no time for daydreaming, no time for letting your mind wander, in a way, to see where it goes … http://books.guardian.co.uk/poetry/features/0,12887,1642018,00.html
So I researched around the idea to consolidate it (children & dreaming, creativity and much more) and wrote up a concept document. This creative development project would involve Jonathon Oxlade, Andrew Cory, Luke Monsour and me in a process of discovery, rather than proof. It’s tricky, this kind of proposal writing. It needs to have enough shape so it’s ‘graspable’ and not too vague and esoteric, yet it needs to be open enough to be clear that there’s a way to go. I broke the unwritten action into three potential settings. In a bed, in a shed, and inside a head.
It needed to be speculative, not prescriptive.
HotHouse Theatre in Albury Wodonga ran this program called ‘A Month in the Country’, a residential development program, which offered space (the titular country house with adjacent rehearsal space) and resources to teams developing new performances. It was ideal for what I had in mind, difficult as it was for me to be away from home for any length of time, I knew it was something worth pursuing for this project, which by now was called ‘Fallen Awake’. I applied to both HotHouse and Arts Queensland (for artist wages) and both applications got up.
We traveled by plane, then train to Albury, which is on the border of New South Wales and Victoria. It’s a fairly large regional town, but not so large that you can’t see the end of it while you’re in it. The theatre company gave us a van which we drove out to the house. The place wasn’t as idyllic as it looked in the photos, but it had a creative ambience. In a private moment I decided to surreptitiously hug a tree out the front.
It was full of wasps. I leapt away rather promptly, hoping nobody saw.
We worked hard, using the concept document as a spring-board. I got some saucepans out of the kitchen and arranged for the key bits of text to be cut up and literally ‘thrown into the pot’ so we could arrange them as a group. Yes I have trained as a drama teacher. Using the text as building blocks we started to build the play structure in an ascending, 3-D instillation on the living room wall.
Having the play grow in front of you like that is a great way of enabling a group (rather than any one individual) access to an emerging play. The fact we were literally ‘living’ with the new play was a real advantage – we’d pass the wall on the way to the loo, and be able to see it as we ate breakfast.
Behind the wall (figuratively speaking) the themes of the piece were thickening as well, pushing towards an apprehension of the power of dreaming and creativity, and how it can be lost and regained as one grows up.
Later on as we began to experiment with filming and projection, we turned our ideas into coloured light and shot them onto the wall too. I loved that wall. The ascension of the ideas took on a literal quality, too, as the protagonist in the fiction we were building began to float away from his moorings in the ‘real’ world. We incorporated elements of the landscape that surrounded us into the visual language of the piece, and we filmed performance and video experiments in the studio next door.
The shed we could see out the kitchen window became the ‘inventor’s shed’ of the protagonist. Luke put together a set of outtakes from the process which you can see here. It’s a mix of rehearsal footage, process stills, technology play and mucking around with stop-motion and working drawings. I’d say it was a ‘behind the scenes’ look, but the whole thing was behind the scenes really.
We worked diligently on creating the piece, which I decided would result in video, rather than performative evidence of our creative process. This was an unusual step – most of the videos I’d made for previous creative developments came across more like mini-pitches or promos for a work. Little commercials. This ‘video treatment’ (as I called it) represented the work, but it also was the work (in-progress). As such it’s meditative in pace, and a bit rough in places. Putting something onscreen gives it a kind of ‘finish’ that works in opposition to the idea of a ‘work-in-progress’. You want it to be polished enough to give someone outside the project a sense of what you’re aiming for, but still rough and open enough to offer a sense of where it might be headed.
You want to capture an element of process in the ‘product’ without crowding it out with footnotes (which is kind of what I’m doing now). The 10 minute video treatment doesn’t fully acquit itself amongst all these demands, and was completed in the last 32 exhausting hours of our stay in the house.
I’d found the music of Amiina, an Icelandic string quartet with electronica elements. Their ever-ascending track Glamur became emblematic of Fallen Awake for me, and I listened to it a lot while I wrote the piece.
I’d also discovered Tin Hat, a San Franciscan group that kind of did acoustic chamber-music. Marvellous. State River Widening from London were also in play, though we didn’t use their music in the piece. I was interested in the music of Explosions in the Sky. Long, ‘post-rock’ instrumentals. Sublime. I loved their tunes with a passion, but I was concerned that there was sufficient ‘drama’ in the music alone – perhaps it was better soundtracking mind-movies rather than a real play. Jevan Cole and Jan Van Dijk’s intimate folk would come into play as well.
Browsing in the only record store in Albury, and feeling good about being paid to work as an artist, I indulged in the extravagance of buying a Ben Harper CD. On it was a track called Paris Sunrise which I listened to obsessively and worked into the show. Its peace, nuance and focus seemed to capture an element of our working environment.
The work has yet to reach production. It’d be quite sublime and enigmatic if it did. Knowing that its audience was pre-literate, and that it involves the spoken word projected as glowing text, I hoped the adults and older children would read the words of children to their own children, and that the auditorium would be filled with the whisper and chatter of shared apprehension as the images in the show unfolded.