Beneath the surface: Making Warmwaters (part 2)

In part 1,  Warmwaters began to flow. Luke and Lena Warmwater,  who are apparently “…the southern hemisphere’s most inspirational nu-folk duo”. Songs were written, arranged and recorded,  backstory discarded and cliches ignored in the creation of something unusual: a male/female musical comedy duo. We continued, untroubled by fame or misfortune.

Playing Live and playwriting: theatricalizing music

I wrote more songs. We rehearsed them up. We began to develop loose patter that we’d use to frame the songs. As the material expanded,  we began to develop the structure of the performance using the setlists. Certain songs seemed to want to go in certain spots. And this is where the narrative development began,  led by music and freed from character,  back story,  conflict,  or message. Our debut gig in 2012 was a few songs at a little bar called Room 60. Then we played a longer gig at the Moulin Beige in Melbourne in april 2013, and  other smaller,  private ones.

We were looking to build the Warmwaters around a ‘bad’, unskillful performance. I find these kinds of performances compelling as an audience member, and I’m awake to the challenges inherent in writing and performing them. At times,  early Warmwaters gigs, which were meant to be simulating bad performances,  were at times actually just bad. As counterintuitive and unsatisfying as this was,  it was a useful dynamic to pursue. Each time, we performed we discovered something new  had emerged out of this authentically musical process.

Peeking

backstage at The Bearded Lady photo:Grant Heaton

My agnosticism about comedy and utter faith in music combined with Bridget’s performance skills, and abilities in comic improvisation led to risky new material that I don’t think we’d have found solely on the page or rehearsal room floor. As gigs increased in duration and ambition, the songs gathered  their own physicality.

The presence of an audience made me focus more carefully on my own persona as a performer within this frame we were building. The mutual comedic roles we played within the well-worn duo format slid around interestingly as we looked for a ’pocket’ to hit that wasn’t pre-determined.

Recording an album

Warmwaters_GoldenBrown_1000x1000

album cover: leadbasedink

I wanted to document what we were doing as audio, as well as script and performance. So towards the end of 2014 we recorded an album with Luke Woollett at QUT’s Gasworks Studios. I chose 10 of the original songs that we could play live, or were likely to feature in the show and recorded them as a duo, or with a full band, which included James Lees (drums) Samuel Vincent (bass) and folk virtuoso Jevan Cole, who guested on one track.

Bridget’s flute sparkles through the songs. I played everything else.  The recording is not at all constrained by folk as a genre, though it’s very acoustic. We worked hard and fast, and it was a lot of fun. Having demoed and road-tested the songs, they were in good shape. Bridget and I recorded the vocals together, singing these duets live as we faced off across the mics. I hear a spiritedness in the vocals that I’m certain can only be developed through playing live. Here’s a montage.

Bringing it home: musicalizing theatre.

The longest live gig we did was on an incredibly hot afternoon in a laneway beside a café in Newstead,  in front of a small,  but patient audience. Two sets, lots of new songs, a few covers, some non-musical ‘routines’. We videoed the gig, as we had the others,  but this time I took the video and transcribed the action,  capturing the micro and macro rhythms of the gig as ‘script’.

Bearded Duo 3

live at The Bearded Lady 2014 photo: Grant Heaton

This enabled me to edit and re-tool the action and dialogue so it began to be as well developed as the music. Later Bridget and I would read out and edit the script together in rehearsal.

Lines became more fixed, and roles and relationships consolidated in concert with the rhythms of comic timing we’d found through live performance.

Narrative started to become more fixed also: an element of conflict expressed through the text/subtext of the show the Warmwaters think they’re doing, as opposed to the show they’re actually doing, and movements between the two domains. Now they had a kind of ‘story’, the performance personae that had emerged started behaving more deliberately: more like ‘characters’.

We took this scripted version to The Bearded Lady for the Brisbane Fringe Festival, and then the Woodford Folk Festival. These gigs were more determined and shapely, but we still felt there was one last step to take. Naturalism had limited mileage as a performance style for this essentially music-driven act.

This last leap was that we needed to attend as carefully to the rhythmic arrangement and performance of the patter as we had the songs themselves. The sense of ‘as-if’; the ‘pretending’ that theatre needs, sat uncomfortably on top of the music we’d begun with,  so we assimilated the best,  and discarded the rest. We finally performed at a real folk club, The Bug, and had a great gig.

Warmwaters (live)

Warmwaters live at The Bug, New Farm Bowls Club April 2015 photo: Mal Lloyd

Perhaps one of the reasons it’s taken a while to find Warmwaters is that we’re not setting out to imitate anything. A male/female musical comedy duo turns out to be a pretty rare thing.

Theatrical performance deals with the ‘as if’. Music deals with ‘what is’. As we take the act towards its true debut at the Queensland Cabaret Festival, it’s clear Lena and Luke Warmwater know they’re performing.  That’s the fun part. It’s all the fun part. We resolved to keep it fun, and it’s still fun. We’re not really pretending. Isn’t that funny?

For now we rehearse music, performance and dance. Yes,  there will be dance. You will be moved by the Warmwaters’ movements.

Stay tuned for more big splashes from Warmwaters. You can find the Warmwaters album here, a dodgy website here, and details about the Queensland Cabaret Festival show here.

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