This is a story about how we turned some songs into a setlist (which made us write more songs) which we transformed into a show.
You can read about the why of Bear with Me here. This is more about the how. It’ll give you some glimpses behind the scenes in the 12 months it took to build the performance. This story’s told in text and mini-documentaries created while we were making the show: a show that looks like a concert for bears, but turns into something rather more special.
Sam and I had been performing as Tyrone and Lesley for more than ten years. (with toilet and meal breaks) We’d made a show for families called Ukulele Mekulele which had quite a life. After this we’d focused on writing performing and recording original music. A theme began to emerge in our songs: bears. So we wrote some more tunes. The songs were honed in a series of rehearsals and rough home recordings, or ‘demos’. They’re arranged for ukulele, double bass and vocals, but many other instruments are used in their preparation.
AUDIO: ‘Stare Bear’ [Demo] (Megarrity/Vincent) Version 1, 2, 3 (instrumental excerpts)
Bear with Me springs from the songs. Arranging and rearranging the sequencing of the tunes into a ‘setlist’ was a key part of the playwriting methodology. A setlist is basically the selection and ordering of songs that a musician’s going to play in a performance.
They can be anything from a be a scrap of paper covered in handwritten scrawlings and gaffa-taped to a stage, or a digital list that controls the myriad lighting and audiovisual settings that comprise a large-scale modern concert. The order the songs appear in drives the concert and influences what comes inbetween, therefore shaping the overarching experience of narrative in performance, and how music performs within it.
It’s constantly evolving work of art for any musician, shifting and changing in response to internal and external factors, liable to be altered at any moment, including during the performance.
AUDIO: ‘Stare Bear’ [Demo] (Megarrity/Vincent) Version 4 (instrumental excerpt)
I know the show’s going to be a music driven performance incorporating concert presentation, dramatic and participatory elements, video projection and bears. So there is writing to do.
Building from the setlist; concept documents, proposals and script drafts are created. Detailed descriptions of something that does not yet exist. The songs spoke to the script; sometimes the script writing spoke back to the song writing.
There is no story (in the classical sense of a fictional proposition) but the show has a strong, play-based narrative, built to involve the audience. In a drive towards economy of language, dialogue between the songs in is written in Haiku form.
It’s difficult to make the act of writing look interesting.
AUDIO: ‘Holding You’ [Demo] (Megarrity) Version 2 (instrumental excerpt)
The songs often grow over three or four drafts, shifting according to the needs of the music and lyrics. Once they’re in a firm shape they’re rehearsed and arranged. Here we are rehearsing along to a draft backing track playing out of an i-phone.
AUDIO: ‘Teatime’ [instrumental] (Megarrity/Vincent)
An important design element of Bear with Me are the animated title cards that appear behind the performance. Following through the cut and pasted antique fonts, a draft version is created here so it can be scanned and transformed by the video artist Nathan Sibthorpe
AUDIO: ‘Marching Teddies’ [home demo] (Megarrity/Vincent) Version 2, instrumental mix
The songs take on their own shape, and sometimes respond to the emerging dramatic context. This rehearsal captures the playful approach taken to enhancing the music as it shifts from ideas on paper and digital sounds to something that will be played live for an audience.
AUDIO: ‘Marching Teddies’ [rehearsal excerpt] (Megarrity/Vincent) V 2
The participatory nature of Bear with Me is intended to make the show fun and meaningful for the bears and their owners. In addition to musical participation there are elements of object theatre and role play for the audience to experiment with: some parts draw on theatre’s roots in ritual.
Here the writer’s storyboarding the audience participation in a briefing document for volunteers who will be working with the audience to bring these moments to life. He’s also eating a toasted sandwich, a crucial element of the creative process.
AUDIO: ‘Sleepy Song’ [rehearsal/demo V1] (Megarrity/Vincent)
About half the songs in the show will have some kind of backing track. Mostly this consists of drum loops from early model drum machines and selected additional musical parts played by the composer/performers.
The production needs to take care that timing and arrangements are well prepared as this audio will be synced with the video projection in performance. Here we’re recording these parts in Brett Collery’s home studio.
AUDIO: ‘Hello Bear’ [live demo, rough mix] (Megarrity/Vincent)
The backing tracks use real or sampled vintage drum machines you see here. This adds another colour to the rhythm and timbre of the show’s sonic palette, as well as a fictional element: the ‘home made’ feel of the show.
Perhaps Tyrone and Lesley thought they’d ‘modernize’ the show by employing this ‘advanced technology’. Each of the backing tracks is ‘counted in’ with the sound of a squeaky toy, which has a practical as well as aesthetic function.
Music: Samples of vintage drum machines
The production was invited to participate in a media call with magazine show ‘The Great Southeast’ which is broadcast statewide and nationally. The idea was that a theatre would be mocked up and we’d perform parts of the (at that time unfinished) show for a small audience.
Somewhere along the line the theatre became a ‘foyer’ but I chose to proceed despite the downgrade, as I wanted to test songs, backing tracks, draft screen and participatory elements with the children they gathered. This excerpt was part of a bigger story, which made the festival look like pretty standard children’s fare, which it’s most definitely not. This was the first time we’d put the concept in front of an audience.
Music: Stare Bear [live excerpt] (Megarrity/Vincent)
Working in a university rehearsal room, we play with a first draft of one of the moving screen elements. The screen elements are meant to look simple, antique and unpromising at first: title cards and the like are presented by ‘screen bear’ who becomes increasingly active as the show progresses. The backing tracks and audio are synced & will come from the same source which means their writing and cueing needs to be quite precise.
Music: Goodbye There Goodbye Bear [backing track] (Megarrity/Vincent)
Working without a stage manager (at least until the show bumped in) meant a lot of carting round and setting up gear. Here we’re working at Brisbane’s ‘Old Museum’, a wild old building.
By now DRAFT 3 of the script is completed, and final(ish) changes are being made in response to performance, rather than the other way around.
To compress onstage action, retain a sense of the show as a whole, and to aid memory, a setlist and script précis are taped to the floor as part of the mark-up.
Music: Oops [incidental music (Megarrity/Vincent)
June 2012: Day Before Opening
With the show bumped in to the Queensland Performing Arts Centre (with various other elements such as lighting, amplification and final drafts of audiovisual stuff coming in) we assemble, run and detail the whole show and each of the sequences that make it up.
Here we step through the opening sequence once again before we get our costumes on and the audience arrives.
Helping are producer Ashleigh Wheeler, Michael Futcher (director) Janis Balodis (Dramaturg) Nathan Sibthorpe (video artist) stage manager Tom, and a sound op among others. After only 9 hours in the theatre we performed for a preview audience of 5 year olds, which was as fun as it was instructive. 9 hours later the show will open. The setlist is set, and the stage is telling us what to do, rather than the page.
Music: Intro music [backing track] (Megarrity/Vincent
Cover image by photoblogger fawn & doe @ http://fawnanddoe.blogspot.com.au/2012/06/june-15th-out-of-box-festival-bear-with.html