QPDA 4: Working on The Holidays

I’ve just spent a week doing further creative development on The Holidays, winner of the Queensland Premier’s Drama Award at Queensland Theatre. It’s not due to open until 2020 but this week was designed to uncover the potential of sound, music, video and design to influence how the story is staged. And influence one another. Patterns for each of these elements are already embedded in the script, so to some extent the week’s work started with interpreting what’s on the page: working out how to make possibilities probabilities. Read part 3 here.

There are actors involved, but they’re not the priority. The pragmatics and play in the act of realisation can release new potential, so I’m keen for the work to embrace these, and draw them into the next draft of the script, which I’ve been working on for a while. Therefore this creative development is not about simply rearranging pre-existing furniture, it’s being open to the possibility of discovering new rooms.

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Day 1 sees a company induction, and a read through. This is the largest the team’s been so far, and securing the availability of the key creatives has been a challenge. But here we are – video artist, designer, composer, sound designer, director, creative development cast and company representatives.  Key creatives have met in the preceding weeks so we know what we’re aiming for. We read the script. It’s interesting to hear new voices and minds on the work. The last time this happened it was about preparing for a staged reading before an audience. This is a more internal process. It’s good to hear the piece away from the static of ‘competition’ and it holds up well. This is the third ‘Family’ that’s read the script.

The creatives respond, interpret and distil the way sound vision and design may potentially integrate. There are many threads of each in the script – much of it’s deliberately encoded by me – but there are other congruences and discoveries that emerge as we collaboratively envision the piece – each person tracks their ‘department’ – but the idea is that each artform responds to one another as the piece develops. The director, Bridget Boyle, has prepared questions which keep the momentum focussed and enable us to loop around, encircling key possibilities for the selected tasks we’re going to engage with this week. We can’t do it all, so we’re being strategic about which moments we’re going to ‘develop’,  looking at one key moment in particular in which the intermedial patterns converge.

IMG_9884Day 2 Today was a location shoot at the beach, where parts of the play are set. There are video elements in what we’re calling the ‘storymachine’ of the work that are therefore designed to evoke the seaside. Video’s a powerful tool in live theatre, but I have written it very carefully into the work so it enhances, rather than overwhelms the live: so it’s woven into the world.  The team is servicing a shotlist composed by the director, derived from the script, but there’s room for experimentation. I’ve made films before, and this shoot, while efficient, is in no way as organisationally tyrannical as that.

I don’t have a formal role so try to stay out of the way. It’s lovely to see moments I’d written being realised in wind, waves and sand. It’s quite moving at times. Given the sights, smells and sensualities of the beach, it’s also a pleasure to get some of that sea-feel into the work.  We return to the rehearsal studio and do some interior shots. We know none of the video assets we’re gathering will be used in the final work, so it’s all quick and improvised.

The main challenge is to assemble moving images to aid intermedial experimentation with video, sound,  live action and music. To enable them to enhance each other in magic moments where their combined power is exponential rather than additive.  I’m looking to use these tools to evoke, rather than emulate the environment, and I find that the ideas the team comes up with suggests that the screen, in particular, can do much more than I’d anticipated. The fragmentary character of the images Nathan is Projection-mapping also speaks to the nature of memory, an important theme in the script.

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Days 3,4 As the team grapples with the patterns I’ve embedded in the script, and bring their expertise to each moment, I advocate for the script when asked to. As the process unfolds I can see I have more work to do as a writer in further distilling images towards their essence. What I have written isn’t just instructions for creatives (they’re more like invitations) they’re literary devices which carry key elements of the symbolic order of the piece. How they’re rendered will change how they’re read, and I need to consider that as I rewrite. That’s why we’re engaged in this creative development.

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Projector test (unmapped) rehearsal room March 2019

All of the artists are focussed not on ‘perfecting’ anything, but rather rendering moments quickly using the tools we have to hand, so we can get a stronger sense of how it might work when it’s better resourced. It’s hard yakka, and requires great skill and insight, which this team exercises with deceptive ease. In this show, video’s not just expensive moving wallpaper. Music’s not muzak. The different media, including the live performance and design will interanimate one another.

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Music is created by Sean Foran, compositions which he pitches as things he’s just dashed off, but they’re perfect – way better than the ‘dummy tracks’ I’d written into the work. Sound Designer Tony Brumpton lends his sonic acumen to placing the music in the space as well as building the aural world of the play – such an important element. With the company’s assistance, we also discuss the legal and technical requirements of the piece as we consider the Dramatic Rights  around the incorporation of sounds and images not created by us.

We’re able to mock up a set which enables us to consider some design issues, gives the actors something to play with, and something firmer to project images upon, and for sound to sing out of. I fulfill my dream of being a hand model.

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Day 5 The week will conclude with a showing for a small audience of invited guests –supporters of the company  –  it’s been set up as a window into process, rather than a show and tell, so we’ll be presenting an incomplete range of ‘options’ and ‘choices’ rather than displaying incomplete versions of anything approaching ‘final’.

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Projector test, rehearsal room March 2019

In fact we show far less than we’ve made – moments that are emblematic of the work. I compose some framing remarks that make this clear, but also invite the audience’s responses to what we’ll do. The attendees are engaged and responsive to the prototypes we share, and afterwards I attend a small function in which is characterised by delight and curiosity about the process and the product. They’re moved by the play. In real life if you bring a tear to someone’s eye, it’s rather unkind. The artmaking process can embrace such behaviour as a goal. It’s rather unusual.  I guiltily sip wine and chat with the audience while others in the team clean up in the rehearsal room, but rationalise that this interaction is part of the work too.

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Trying to make the act of rewriting look dynamic by blurring images of a script covered in post it notes

Rewriting I’ve journalled and collected notes which I’ll feed back into the writing process, towards the next draft. Someone new to the term ‘creative development’ may be skeptical about the kinds of experimentation we’re doing. They may say ‘the script’s been written – just stand it up onstage’. It’s never that simple and I am certain the final product would be the poorer for skipping this valuable phase.  Some of the sketched diagrams I created are now obsolete as the work of the team has enabled me as writer to visualise so much more clearly how The Holidays will be manifested on the stage instead of the page.

 

In addition to implmenting improvements to the human element of the piece,  a lot of the rewriting is systematic and colour coded as I comb through the work making adjustments to each of the patterns,  in the new knowledge of the potential practical application and literary character of these supposedly ‘technical’ elements, and their contribution to the symbolic order of The Holidays

Beach images Nathan SibthorpeRehearsal room images David Megarrity

 

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