Tyrone and Lesley are ‘doing’ cabaret, whatever that is. There’s a draft of the script, based in a setlist: each has influenced the other. It’s time to stand it up and play it. [Read part one or two.]
Working alone at first, I play the musical material, and work on learning the newer tunes. Luckily there aren’t too many of these.
The road testing of this material at various festivals and gigs means that the tricky work of arranging the songs for double bass, ukulele and two vocals has been done.
The musical yeast of the show has proved. It means our focus as musicians can be outwards- facing – the music is at times difficult to play, but we’re across that and can do the job of communicating it to an audience.
There’s certain stuff you can only learn by performing. Not just the valuable findings such as which songs or behaviours go over best with an audience, but also rhythms of music, text and applause in the live moment. The ebb and flow of a set. The ‘attunement’ that the performers must establish between themselves and their material; themselves and each other; and when making amplified music, the attunement to a (usually) unfamiliar venue and field of sound that is only partially created by you. A kind of ‘performance timing’ that speaks of the final collaboration: with the audience.
Even standing alone in a rehearsal room, and running through a draft setlist in real time, you get a sense of how the sequencing of material works, how the songs ‘converse’ with each other. Changes emerge in this process that need to be directed back into the work of the writer. A song begs inclusion and is back on the table. Two songs that are thematic bedfellows are too similar musically to work next to each other in performance. Certain images or actions seem emblematic and make the transition from lyric to stage image. The songs are embodied: choreography emerges naturally from the way the music makes you move. It’s easier to enhance something that develops authentically.
Simple as it is, the feel of the show is strengthening. The work here is in looping between script and performance, playing with it, and getting rid of anything extraneous. If any of the serious concepts of content or form discussed here are perceptible in the show we’ve failed. The idea is to have a good time. The whole thing has been sewn together very carefully yet we don’t want to ‘show the seams’
I want to keep in mind Don Paterson’s aphorism: “Be obscure clearly.”
Writing around the show
I’ve long realised that the writing around a show is as important as the writing in it. It’s no good spending 40000 words on a script if the 25 words you use to describe it aren’t engaging. Alongside all this is the real-world writing of program copy and press releases, exchanging drafts with Marketing.
Creating or sourcing images that will ‘sell’ a show that you haven’t finished making yet. Writing bios. That kind of thing has to be attended to carefully: the likelihood is that there are far more people who will read the description of your show than see the show.
I describe the show’s spartan technical needs to the person at the Powerhouse who will find the gear and make it happen. We make videos for a couple of songs from the album. This involves performing and writing too. It takes time.
We do a play-reading, a delightfully absurd moment when Tyrone reads the text and Lesley is patiently silent. It’s still good to do, because the rhythms of the text need to be performed, rather than silently understood off the page. Sam offers his responses we discuss the text, subtext and beginnings of music-under.
I can immediately see there are cuts to do, and emphases to be underlined. At times the themes are too subsoil, so they must be surfaced: it takes me reading it to see this. We then stand up to play music, checking in with our existing arrangements and enhancing harmonies.
I work early in the morning, taking action on notes I’ve made, and cutting text: delicately laying threads through the work, and using ellipses…
line breaks to simulate the spoken rhythm
of the words.
I consider another option for the encore, the unexpected return to the stage that everyone expects.
Choreography is something that could be imposed from the outside, but as neither of us are dancers, this seems like a silly approach. Therefore we’ve added our own quirks to the way we move in the songs: movements that, generally speaking, emerge fairly naturally out of the music we’re making.
We may exaggerate or dramatise these movements from time to time, but often that’ll be contingent on whether the music we’re making (simultaneously) allows it. We check in with how far we want to go with each bit of choreography, rehearse and confirm our approach.
Even our placement onstage, which I wanted to experiment with, after further consideration, is dependent upon factors such as the physical orientation of a double bass player in relation to a microphone.
We have neither the time or technical support to entertain other solutions, so the best thing is to see these constraints not as problems, but as limitations which can be paradoxically freeing.