Just a delayed update

Thought it was about time we posted a little update on what’s happening at the moment with The Ice Maiden.

We performed the work-in-progress version of our first act in the From Devon with Love festival and managed to get a lot of helpful feedback from it, which was the main thing we were looking for. A lot of our ideas went down well, people liked our aesthetic and we found out a lot about which sections were working better than others. From the feedback we got two main points  – to push our more dramatic, aesthetically-interesting  parts futher, and to give the whole piece more of a storytelling feel. Although we did have some bits which were quite like storytelling theatre, the theme was definetly lacking when you looked at the piece overall. Rather than having flats to function as wings, and blackouts to disguise scene changes, it was suggested we ‘don’t hide the strings’, integrate the narration in the action and have the actors sit on a bench at the back of the stage when not in a scene and other such ideas.

Although we had worked with other actors for that performance, we decided to carry on with just the three of us for the next stage of the project. Taking the feedback we tried to develop our script taking the new ideas into account but ended up hitting a wall. The concept of storytellers narrating the tale to the audience was integrated fairly easily, but there seemed no way around the fact that these characters seemed random, walking around the stage telling the audience this story for no particular reason. There were also problems with the plot, mostly from the character of Babette who we couldn’t escape simply being the ‘love interest’.

Therefore we decided we had to take a bit of a new direction with the piece. We looked at the plot and made it more centric around the main character Rudy, and decided to have him as a puppet throughout the whole piece, rather than just at the beginning. The plot changes opened up a lot of new potential scenes, and as we worked through a new script we tried to make sure sure that each scene had some sort of hook or device to it, and not simply be too reliant on dialogue (never one of our strong suits).

While we liked having storyteller characters narrate the whole piece, we needed a reason for them to be there and so they have ended up functioning as a framing device. It is now like it is being created by these storytellers as it goes along – the play is set in these creators’ rehearsal room as they struggle to come up with a new idea, and start writing this story. It allows us to be highly theatrical and acknowledge the storytelling themes, we can drop in and out of the action to narrate when we need to and we can show the strings as much as we want

We’re going to be performing in the Ignite festival in the Bike Shed and TheatreFest in Barnstsaple  – so lets see if we can make this version in three months….

 

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The solution to creativity blocks

Well it has been a while since the last post and this is because, despite arriving fresh faced and bushy tailed into a new year, ready to get back into developing Watcher and the Watched, experiment with new styles and ask important artistic questions….we hit a complete block.

We could go over practicalities fine, discuss business card designs and rehearsal structures perfectly well but in terms of anything creative we had, well, nothing. Absolutely the worst thing to face when getting to a new phase in a project is a complete imagination drought.

So what can we do to get those creative juices flowing again? Games? Workshops?

Instead we remembered how coming exhausted out of Rogues and Wanderers we did a small, simple adaptation of an existing source that was both enjoyable and very allowing of creativity, namely A Christmas Carol. From this it was then very easy to flow straight into a more major project, The Bloodline.

Realising this was exactly what we needed we cast about for something to work off – a novel? A childhood story? A play? And then we realised we had a far better idea: James Bond. We would make our own Bond film.

Suffice to say we are just coming out of R+D and into storyboarding and we will give you more details in a few details when we have a script. A script that will of course be shaken.

Not stirred

Women in the Mafia

Women in the Mafia

(c)philipjehmann

I thought I’d offer a personal reflection on a certain strand of research I have been undergoing for our upcoming show, The Bloodline.
The Bloodline is inspired by the dynamics of power within criminal underworlds and their parallels to Shakespeare’s King Lear. We are asking how power is perceived and how power is sought. Do we yearn for hierarchical structure? What happens when this structure is thrown into turmoil?

Criminal underworlds present insular environments where power is intensified, where the threat of violence is immediate and everyone’s morals and motives are questionable. Many of Shakespeare’s texts explore power in different ways. His words and characters carry weight and gravity that provide a timelessness which we feel will provide an access point for an audience to the themes of power we wish to explore.

The Bloodline

(c)philipjehmann

We have delved into many paths of research on different organised crime gangs around the world and I must admit, the first thing that has struck me is that women are almost never mentioned in these contexts. At first it seemed as if women have never existed within these age old traditions of crime and power.

As a group, we are mostly concerning ourselves with the American Italian mafia and are becoming more and more influenced by the iconic gangster film genre. Its influence seems to be uncontrollably bleeding into our work, which we’re not minding at all at the moment but perhaps that’s for another blog. It is the American Italian mafia and the Italian mafia where I have been able to find an insight into the role of women, and its complicated web of changing traditions have become a real stimulant for me.

There are traditional mafia rules that formally excludes the participation of women in the criminal organisation. Only men of Italian descent are allowed to become members. The traditional role for mafia women are to be mothers and wives of Mafia members. They belong to the Mafia as opposed to being part of it. They are ‘Property of the Mafia’. It seems that Mafia women are expected not to ask questions about Mafia business and are actively kept out of the loop. Some writings tend to root that fact in catholic belief, the mother is Madonna – the pure being. But other reasons are suggested, that women become emotional over the dangers regarding their sons and husbands and that she will lose all objectivity.

women in the mafia

(c)philipjehmann

It interested me how these traditions effect relationships with their husbands. “Pillow Talk” is regarded as a blatant violation of the code of absolute secrecy. It is believed that the reason mobsters take mistresses is to have a woman they are able to confide in.

We have been looking at these traditions and their parallels and contradictions with Shakespeare stories and it is when we have been looking at King lear that my imagination has gone wild! What happens when women of the mafia somehow are presented with a high position of power and the responsibilities and choices that come with it.

We have been aware that in the last few decades women’s roles in the Mafia have begun to change. Now that Mafia women get educated, they have become more active in the criminal organisation and are let into the secrets. They have become book-keepers and messengers. Karen Hill, a character in Goodfellas is a good example.

There are rare examples of women who have began to take power when their husbands and brothers have been sent to prison or have been forced to go on the run. Many of these women have proved themselves by running a successful and equally brutal regime. However, no female is yet to be appointed by virtue of their own leadership qualities. They have only delegate or substitute power. There has been no official change to the Mafia code in regards to female involvement.

I am wondering whether female liberation is happening in these rare examples of female leadership or whether women are performing an act of further obedience by allowing the Mafia system to continue during the absence of the male family members. These questions are allowing me to view King Lear through a new lense, especially the Goneril and Regan characters and their dynamic with Cordelia. I’m not sure yet how this research might manifest in the final product as we are always shifting ideas and evolving healthily but it’s proving a complex topic for me and I’m really enjoying exploring its possibilities in the rehearsal room.

Monique Luckman

The Importance of Feedback

On Wednesday, we held a work in progress performance for some of our heroes. We invited our old lecturers, tutors and mentors from the University to come and see some of the material we have so far with the hope that they can offer us feedback and comment with fresh eyes on the what parts are working and what bits aren’t and how to push the piece further.

This is something we had been planning to do from right at the beginning of our rehearsal process. We wanted to do it for a number of reasons. In our experience of devising and performance making, it is easy to become precious and introvert about what your making and sometimes that is dangerous as it is easy to become too immersed in the process and lose sight of the an audience’s  journey through the piece.

Another reason is that, in devising, it is always vital to get fresh eyes on the work as they will always be able to pick up on something that you haven’t seen yourself and the feedback will tell you which aspects of the performance are working better and which aspects aren’t. This feedback then provides you with a new, fresh direction to push and develop your piece.

And this is exactly what happened. After a week of working on moments that have been born through play and work-shopping, we were beginning to develop a journey/narrative through these series of moments. But as we began to do this, I had started to feel my grip on what someone experiencing these moments for the first time will see slipping away. But just as I started to feel this, it was time for the work in progress session. Brilliant timing.

The feedback took the form of a lively discussion about physical language, relationships with text, sensual experience and how narrative and meaning is currently emerging. The discussion was fruitful and energetic and has therefore us given a revitalised energy to move on in our process.

The performance date is getting closer now and it is becoming more and more important that we don’t lose our energy and excitement for the piece and continue to work hard pushing and shifting and questioning and challenging. We have found that feedback helps you maintain that energy to keep running.

Monique Luckman

The meaning of Sour Dough

Shadow WorkshopWhile studying at university one of the common phrases thrown around during any devising process was that people shouldn’t be afraid of “killing babies”. Obviously this wasn’t meant literally, it of course meant that when creating work ideas should be treated as just that; ideas. An idea can change and shift, grow or shrink, or gotten rid of altogether. Every idea that is created through exercises or discussions should not be considered set in stone but in fact seen as something malleable. This is where we got the name “SourDough”.

Dough can be moulded, expanded, baked, shaped, stretched, added too and taken away from. Consider an idea as a piece of dough while making bread. Sometimes the dough is too big to fit in the tin before going in the oven and bits needed to be taken away but those bits would never go in the bin, but saved until the next loaf of bread needs to be made.

So here we have two different approaches to devising, killing your babies and making dough. For a while I simply stopped talking about babies and completely focused on my dough and every idea that was aired was treated as such, however over the course of Rogues and Wanderers the difference between the two has become totally clear to me, and has brought babies back on my mind.

Sometimes it is necessary to let ideas go completely. And these ideas are difficult to use in a future piece, a future loaf. A rule of a particular world for example which would not fit in any other project. However, a theatrical devise (like a box of matches, that can be used in so many different ways to achieve so many different affects) which can be moulded to fit another piece is dough, and if it does not fit in the piece that you are doing at that particular moment it should be wrapped up in cling film and put in the fridge. It is sometimes difficult to see the difference between the two and most of the time it is only in hindsight that the dough can be taken from the babies, but realising what can be saved is important. Killing a baby is sometimes hard work and people can find it difficult to let go of precious ideas, but if you look at it as dough that can be used again the disappointment is greatly reduced.

Ideas as DDancing with Shadowsough was introduced to us during a module in our second year by our tutor, we greeted it with giggles. However as time goes on, and we get more and more experienced with devising work the phrase has stuck with us and has now become an integral part of our language during our process.Shadows at work

Callum Elliott-Archer

Cassette Tapes

In rehearsals for Rogues and Wanderers this week, SourDough Theatre have been discussing cassette tapes. Poor dusty, old, abandoned cassette tapes. We have been discussing what we associate with them and how cassette tapes resonate for us as an old media.

Cassette Tapes

We shared a long list of associations, resonance and memories of the cassette tape. For instance, illicitly recording our favourite pop songs from the radio in order to create the ultimate compilation tape, ‘ultimate hits Feb ’97’, ‘ultimate hits March ’97’, ‘smash hits April ’97’ and so on and so on. The snippets of radio jingles sneaking on to the album before we had time to jump across the room to hit the stop button. It happened to the best of us.

Cassette Tape CollectionLong car journeys, equipped with your parents extensive cassette collection; for me the choice comprised of Chris de Burgh, James Taylor, Phil Collins and Kate Bush, I am eternally grateful for Kate Bush.

The frustration of chewed up cassette tapes. The terrible warble that sounded as your heart broke with the loss of what could have been your best compilation yet.

Probably the fondest memory of the cassette tape though is sitting in your sibling’s or best friend’s room recording home radio shows or your very own musical masterpieces. It was very valuable work experience for us all and it taught us a lot. I would give anything for the chance to listen back to those tapes. Even if I could find them, I don’t even own a CD player any more never mind a cassette player. (The death of the CD: another blog post for another time)

Chewed Up Cassette TapesOur discussions have progressed into talking about the quality of voice recording using cassette tapes and old Dictaphones etc. Is there something enchantingly reminiscent about the distortion of cassette recording in comparison to our superior digital replacement? Can we place cassette recording under the same net as home video? A media that is stigmatised by the familiar experience being forced to watch hours of unedited holiday videos when the most exciting clip is one of your Nana eating a German sausage.

Home videos have a quality that is somehow organic, humble and sincere, they capture memories and experiences as well as the spontaneous facial expression of a family member as they open a birthday present or  the sound of a loved one’s voice coming from behind the camera as they tell you to ‘dance for grandma!’. This ability is probably something home videos share with not only cassette sound recordings but with photographs too.

It was fun discussing and reminiscing about cassette tapes, we were probably the last generation to enjoy the wonders of  cassette tapes and we are keen to use them in rehearsals as a media because it clearly sparks our imaginations and a familiarity with them.

Monique Luckman

Joe’s Thoughts

It’s been a week of clearing and tidying and getting our eye back on the ball after our wonderful weekend at Poltimore last week. We have been continuing our early workshops for Rogues and Wanderers (2nd,3rd, 4th November at The Bike Shed Theatre http://bit.ly/a1gZJY)

At the moment, we are taking it in turns to facilitate a workshop for the group. With each workshop, we are realising the extent to which we have a luxurious set of tools to play with as we explore each other’s more individual skills and expertise in these workshops. Even though, we all worked together at university at some point, we all took different classes and modules and had different experiences of making performance. This is now presenting us with an exciting opportunity to learn from each other and share anything that we have to put on the table.

May we take this opportunity to thank everyone who has been reading our blog so far. It’s really nice for us to be able to share our thoughts and justifications for what we’ve been doing. As we progress into more focussed rehearsals and we start to focus more on generating solid material, the importance of this blog will become more and more important in documenting our progress.

In the meantime, SourDough member Joe Sellman Leava would like to share his thoughts about the beginnings of SourDough Theatre and what we’ve up to this week. (We applaud him for approaching blog writing in such a creative way) Enjoy!

The first conversation

With every member of SourDough present seems like yesterday

But already months have passed

Already we have staged two different shadow puppet performances at Poltimore house

Already we have begun workshops and meetings to generate material for Rogues and Wanderers

As our show-making month of September draws closer


 

Between our day-jobs and our night jobs

Between our early starts and our late finishes

Amongst every obstacle that life places just a few feet in front of the rehearsal room

SourDough Theatre keeps moving forward


 

In the space of just one week, the SourDough kitchen has gone from a puppet workshop

With cardboard off-cuts and paper fasteners littering the floor

Designs and cutting mats on the work surfaces

And puppets pinned on the noticed boards

To a meeting room with people crowded round our tiny table

Talking through narrative structures

And character archetypes

And plot devices


 

Some of us come to workshops after early shifts

Some come knowing they face a late shift afterwards

But everyone engages with them fully

Immerses themselves in each one with every creative fibre they have

Everyone takes a turn in leading workshops

Guiding their collaborators through exercises

And placing their trust in those who guide them

 

And then there are conversations about the future of the company

Ones that map out our schedules in days and weeks

Or our rehearsal process in months

Or where SourDough will be in a year’s time


Conversations

That happen as we drag unwieldy chairs down old flights of steps

As we scribble notes by the laundrette window

As we polish glasses

And empty bottle bins

And pay our way through uncertainty


Conversations which remind us always why we’re here and what are goals are

And with each and every tiny breakthrough

With every baby step that takes us forward

Amongst the chaos and the calm

SourDough Theatre is working