The show opens in a month. My collaborator Nathan Sibthorpe framed our previous work in creative development as ‘proceeding without logistical trepidation’. I liked that phrase, because it meant that we were experimenting with possibilities rather than probabilities. Now things are changing. The script has been through several drafts and is increasingly consolidated, firm and clear.
Like playing a song that you’ve learned well enough to perform, the paradoxical aim of all this effort is to make it seem effortless. We’ve worked out what’s possible – now we need to work out what we can probably achieve within limited time and resources.
UPDATE: here’s a promo video for the finished show so you have a sense of where we ended up.
The end of Creative Development
As unrestricted creative play recedes and the pragmatics of production encroach, it seems deliciously indulgent to have been as playful as we were, however rigorous this play might have appeared. Now we’re supposed to know what we’re doing and how.
To have manifested these ideas on the stage (and not just the page) was vital in a situation where we wanted screen and song to influence and change each other. Not just songs talking to one another, but images.
Certain sequences that were proposed, but not pursued, stayed on the drawing board. Others were cut, including some pieces that we’d performed.
Others mutated, evolved and were rewritten. The rhythms of the piece emerged forcefully as music, image, spoken word and action intertwined.
This has been a compositional process – just as when writing a song, one idea might summon another, or a rhythm or rhyme bring forth another one entirely, so it has been with this project. A congruence of an image, or an inversion or re-placement of an idea has informed each fragment and its potential ‘home’ in an emerging sequence, and a forming ‘show’.
Nathan’s creative contributions have often appeared in the ‘technical’ realm, which is so often relegated to the ‘realisation’ of creative ideas, but the work is no less conceptual. There are a myriad stylistic choices as Nathan works to make the ‘architecture of the piece have its own language’.
The creative development left us with a series questions that the next phase of writing needed to answer: things like : ‘what happens next?’. The answers come from within the domain of the musical and visual world we’ve made rather than anything approaching a naturalistic ‘plot’. The show’s started to make its own kind of sense, drawn from its own idiosyncratic causalities. It’s a quirky world, written with joy. And the writing has taken many forms.
Writing in many forms
Sometimes the ‘writing’ involves rehearsal. It’s fine to make a list of songs in sequence, but to stand up and play it is altogether something else. In terms of writing patter, text typed with two fingers is totally different to text on the tongue.
Sometime the writing involves performance. Tyrone and Lesley played the Sunshine Coast Ukulele Festival and there were certain songs we played that went over particularly well, which confirmed their place in this show.
Sometimes the writing involves drawing. It’s easier sometimes to first draw a series of stage images than write them, especially (as Nathan’s observed) once those images become recursive. Images of screen on screen.
Sometimes the writing involves making video. Certain corners of the show were brightened by me making a rough little film. Sometimes this was about testing sequences and rhythms, sometimes it was about testing technical or stylistic possibilities. Sometimes this making and sharing of videos with collaborators is a time-efficient way of working remotely – to not have a meeting, but still get something done. Sometimes the video-making is about mixing el-cheapo modern tech with vintage ideas such as the Bouncing Ball.
Sometimes the writing includes curation and composition of images and music. Sorting vintage slides. Consideration of sonic segues either pre-recorded and synced to video, or composed to be played live. This is Sam’s department.
Sometimes the writing involves writing. The ‘craft and sullen art’ of annotation and redrafting of words.
The spoken words that most people might assume is the starting point for a theatre script, have been the last to arrive here. Virginia Woolf talks about dialogue in a novel being like foam crowning a much larger wave, and the words in this show are a bit like that.
The show is composed of fragments which integrate screen, song, text and action. Each has its own life. The show’s structure will emerge from the arrangement, sequencing and segueing of these pieces. As I’m not particularly concerned with a standard narrative, I experimented with allowing form to influence structure – to move from simpler fragments to more complex ones, with an overarching convergence of the images and symbols.
This idea was too big for my brain so after I wrote it as script I mapped it visually. This is what it looked like. I liked the pattern that emerged, which looked more like a score than anything else.
In discussing composer Iannis Xenakis’s ‘visual scores’ David Byrne (188:2012) opens up the idea that many different kinds of things can be perceived as ‘scores’ …”it’s about texture, patterns and interrelationships.
Robert Farris Thompson, a professor of art at Yale, pointed out that once you let yourself see things in this way, lots of things become “musical scores” – although they might never have been intended to be played. He argues that in a lot of African weaving, one can sense a rhythm. The repetition in these fabrics doesn’t consist of a simple looping of mirror images and patterns: rather, modular parts recombine, shift position, and interact over and over with one another, aligning in different ways over time, recombinant.”
Therefore the mise en scene, often untethered from language in performance, can possess qualities that are composed… and essentially musical.
Scheduling and resourcing
Scheduling times, spaces, tasks and people’s availability has been a complicated process, but we now know where and when we’re going to meet and what we’re going to do. This is my least favourite aspect of making a show, but it’s not something you can fake when you value the time of busy people and you’re squeezing the building of the show around everybody’s day and other jobs.
Making a show with the sporadic, rather than a solid engagement of, say a few weeks ‘straight’ has its benefits, though, principally in terms of creative gestation. Problems can be identified, and their solutions ‘dreamt up’ over time rather than having to be immediately devised and implemented.
We don’t get the money we applied for, so there’s no cash budget. I had hoped I was not hoping, but I was a little. This means that if something to be constructed, we have to scrounge the time and materials to construct it. That’s OK. There’s something quite meditative about carving a miniature ukulele.
The script becomes a resource for breakdowns and extractions. What video needs to be shot? What props are needed? What are the exact requirements for the design? The art of the script births a plethora of ‘lists of things to do’.
I’m not so entranced with creative process that I want to perform the show to no-one. I receive daily email outlining ticket sales, which is… motivating. Marketing involves the creation of images and text that might sell the show, making deeper connections with those that already have an interest and entice everyone else to be interested enough to buy a ticket. Text and images must be selected and organized to present an engaging and cogent feel for what the experience of the show is likely to be for an audience.
I’m the first to admit that being completely inside an artwork is possibly the worst vantage point from which to attempt to sell it. I’m interested in the fine grain, but marketing needs broad brush strokes. Luckily in addition to the Brisbane Powerhouse, we have the help of Metro Arts in this department, and Nathan seems to know a lot about how it’s done as well, which is good, because it’s never been my strong point.
Nevertheless I spend a lot of time carefully considering who might be interested in the show beyond our core of fans and how they might find out about it through various media. This work takes the form of writing blurbs, making promos, contributing to press releases and selecting ‘hero’ images. Luckily we invested in a good photographer for the creative development.
Towards opening night
There are lots of things to do: a video shoot, editing and arranging the images into the screen content that we’ll weave into the show. This project has been characterized by a lot of off-site work interspersed with short, intense periods of face-to face contact. This approach will continue as we all work to create interlocking screen, writing and music
There is an element of process in the product as the attempt at spectacle has itself become the spectacle. We have faith in the project and it’s being made with love. Its meaning has emerged, rather than being predetermined, and I’m pretty sure that process of emergence will continue into our audience’s experience of the performance. I was moved to include the following quote (which I’ve held close for years) in the front of our script. These were the first words spoken at our first reading of the piece, at our first rehearsal.
I read somewhere of a shepherd who, when asked why he made, from within fairy rings, ritual observances to the moon to protect his flocks, replied: ‘I’d be a damn’ fool if I didn’t!’ These poems, with all their crudities, doubts, and confusions, are written for the love of Man and in praise of God, and I’d be a damn’ fool if they weren’t.
Dylan Thomas, 1952
You’ve seen inside the show – now come with us to look at the view. Book here.