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….

 

Bond is almost there!

As a company we have a great fondness for letting a project takes as long as it needs to, presenting it only when it is finished. That being said it is always a bit embarrsing when a short project indended to take only a few weeks ends up taking 4 months!

It has been hugely enjoyable throughout, but it certainly is a slow process. Filming-wise this is mostly a secheduling issue, particularly when it comes to the precious-few daylight hours we have after everyone gets out of work. But the part that has really taken up our past few weeks is the editing process, and it does feel like we have spent an awful lot of time crowded in a room staring at a screen. Part of the delay is the fact that we to go through 2 editing stages. While Theo does have some very nice Sony Vega Pro editing software it isn’t compatible with the format the camera records on, so we therefore have to do an inital basic edit on Windows Movie Maker on all scenes, so it can then be rendered into a format that the better software can recognise.

The first stage of the editing is primarily about visuals, working out which take to use and putting it all together. One problem we would sometimes find outselves in is not having enough footage – because of a tendency to shoot only the moments and lines we already had in our heads, and therefore missing out the in-between parts, which would leave the scene with a rather choppy feel to it. This would lead to a list of re-shoots that had to be done, or chunks that needed to be found in stock footage when it was past our capabilities budget-wise. At the end of this we had the main body of the film, but far below presentable quality.

This is where the second stage comes in. With the Sony Vega software’s superior range of options we could add the necessary visual tricks, from simple subtitles to the effects-soaked opening titles. However the main task of this stage was to get the sound right, and while in some scenes this is only a matter of minutes in others it can take a lot of time and complex layering. Often it is a case of cleaning up background sounds of cars or rain, or using the dialogue from another take which sounded better, or perhaps even dubbing a few lines over. But to really give the film the right film you need the right sound effects and music. With the exception of a few Bond themes and our fantastic title song by Jack Davy, all of these these can be sound from our good friends freesound.org and freeplaymusic.com. It can be quite a fine balancing act getting the levels right between all those layers, and while we had most of the things we would need already noted down and sourced, we would still have to have a couple of people ready to hunt down some forgotten gun shot sound, and film, render and transfer it across as quickly as possible.

And so at the end of a tricky but fun process the film is almost ready for public viewing. It is currently chugging through the many hours of rendering but will be uploaded to youtube in the next few days, so watch this space!

 

 

The Exeter Blitz Project

Edith’s Walk: An Exeter Blitz Audio Tour. Follow Edith through the city centre as the ghosts of Exeter emerge from the rubble to tell their stories.

Amongst all the Bond fun, Charlotte and Laura have been working on their audio tour Edith’s Walk. The tour is part of the Exeter Blitz Project commemorating the bombing of Exeter 70 years ago this May.

We’ve had a really great time doing all the recording. Lots of voice actors coming in and out, performing in our make shift recording studio (Laura’s hallway and wardrobe), sustained with copious amounts of tea, bourbons and easter cakes. A massive thanks again to everyone who was involved. We are lucky to know such talented people, they have really brought our audio tour to life!

We are starting to edit the piece together now with the help of Dan Smith our sound engineer extraordinaire.

We have both really enjoyed working on this audio tour. We want the people of Exeter to walk through the city with a new perspective. For us, this project has uncovered a part of Exeter’s rich history. We now look at the high street in a very different way, realizing what was lost and why the city is now shaped as it is.

Over the next month we will be getting everything together ready for our first tours on May 7th. When the tour is ready you will be able to download it onto your mp3/ipod from here on the website. More information coming soon!

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

Tick tock tick tock tick tock

I am writing this as I sit watching last minute rehearsals for The Bloodline. The performance is on Thursday so time is ticking! Everyone has so much energy and is having so much fun with what has turned out to be a very physical piece!

I’m not performing in the piece this time so I have had the pleasure of sitting in on rehearsals as SourDough have been choreographing fights, squabbles, and gruesome gruesome deaths (we felt it wouldn’t be Shakespeare without them).

Mark Ruddick Is God

We were very lucky to have a workshop and guidance by Mark Ruddick from Squire Theatre last week. We were in utter awe of the extent of how much he was able to teach us about his fascinating craft in such a small amount of time. He really is a genius and we are very grateful for his time!

We are performing on Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 7.30pm this week at the Bike Shed Theatre, it would be great to see you there! We have been very playful with Shakespeare . . . We have been playing with sub-plots, contexts, characters, settings and outcomes. I can’t wait to see what everyone thinks! I’d love to go into more detail but since it’s so close to performance day, I would hate to spoil it for you!

In the meantime, I will leave you a little video that shows how much fun we have really been having!

Monique Luckman

P.s

The Bloodline

Thursday 31st March – Saturday 2nd April 2011, 7.30pm

at The Bike Shed Theatre, Exeter.

BE THERE!

Tickets: £10 (£5)
Book now 01392 667080

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

A SourDough Halloween

Magic Shoes

Magic Shoes

On Sunday 31st October 2010, SourDough Theatre began a rehearsal in St Stephens Church in Exeter. Theatre makers or not, most people our age would usually spend Halloween in a number of places, be it pub, club or party. But for SourDough, All-Hallows-Eve  was the night before a mammoth get-in, technical rehearsal and, as is often the case with devised work, last-minute show-making! And as such it saw us move from one beloved rehearsal space into another:  St Stephen’s Church, to allow us to carry on into the night.

Whilst rehearsing for Rogues and Wanderers, we would use the church most Sunday evenings as our usually hang outs would be locked up. A couple of us in the company have used the church as a performance space for a previous project at University. We love the space, it is vast, cold and echoy and has a wonderful quite, ancient atmosphere even though it is located at the very centre of busy Exeter.

Mask Making

Mask Making

So, we were 2 days away from our opening night and we sat around a long grand table to discuss the piece as a whole in order to develop a plan of action for our all important last days of preparation. This discussion actually began to function as a way of sharing each of our thoughts about what the piece had become and how it had emerged. This was the point at which we began to feel tingles of excitement about showing it to an audience and a real connection with the piece had sprung into life in each of us and left us feeling really proud of it.

We decided to get up and use the massive space to run through the piece and apply some of the touch ups and improvements we had been talking about. Whether it was the hushed atmosphere of the church, or the air of halloween night, or the levels of excitement that was mounting in us, this run-through turned out to be full of energy and when it came to try our ending for the very first time, it was a very special moment indeed.

We had been preparing a song for the final section of the performance for a couple of weeks, and as singing in harmony had not came naturally to us as a group, it was something we had been working hard for and had been really enjoying. When we applied it to the piece in that rehearsal, it was the first time we had tried it without the much needed guidance of our wonderful, god-sent musicians. However the sound of our united voices in that vast, silent church was enough to move us into a humble contentment with the piece we had finally finished.

Shoes and Lights

Shoes and Lights

As we quietly packed away our belongings and left through the Church’s back door, the song still softly resonating  through our heads, there was a strange buzz that twisted through us all. It was born of the excitement that comes when the nights come swifter and the air turns colder; as the dwindling October hours and their Halloween masks stand on the cusp of bonfires, fireworks and Christmas trees. And sometimes, on wonderfully rare occasions, this autumnal electricity works its way through an unusual moment, like the one the eight of us shared in the old church. Never had any of us spent a Halloween quite like that one.

http://www.stephenproject.org.uk/

Monique Luckman and Joe Sellman-Leava

Masks and Music

Masks and Music

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 process so far . . .

This week's rehearsals

This week has been a tough week for everyone in the group. We are getting to that very recognisable stage in the process where we are rehearsing every day and working very hard and long, at times we are losing sight and finding it hard to distance ourselves from the project. It is ticking away constantly with everyone. As I say, a very recognisable state for a devising process.

Rehearsal with Masks

Rehearsal with Masks

Even though tensions have been high at times, frustrations and feelings that we haven’t achieved enough have occurred; some really important and strong work has come out of this week.

It is important to mention that in previous weeks, as a group, we have been focussing on the structure of the piece, the ‘world’ we are trying to create and the rules within it (‘world’: a word some of us, if not all would like to never hear again once the piece is done), and the characters that we would like to emerge. This has meant hours and hours of discussion, filling holes and gaps, trying to make our concept and structure flawless. This is something we know is impossible, you can pick holes in any story; there will always be something that hasn’t been thought of or over looked. However, it’s important to try.

So there have been weeks of diagrams and brain storms, endless evaluation of the ‘classic structure’ and referencing literally every film ever made; The Matrix, Narnia, The Beach, Labyrinth, The Village, The Truman Show, Hook and The Wizard of Oz being some of our most used to make a point or to make sense of things. An impressive mix, I think.

This week, we have moved on. We have allocated characters and roles for everyone, which in fact took the form of another endless discussion but we have arrived at a point where there is excitement amongst us to what each of us will be able to achieve in our roles.  We have a very creative group of performers which means there is a wealth of possibility. This is an encouraging idea for us.

Text Work

Text Work

With characters allocated, we have been able to start work on important moments of interaction between characters, and pivotal moments in the story. By just starting to write, improvise and practically explore ideas, difficult decisions and concepts have magically answered themselves and we are beginning to generate some interesting material.

Character Workshop

Character Workshop

We have also managed to start work on movement. This has been useful because ideas about a character’s function and relationship with one another have come out whilst trying to discover how certain characters move. It’s funny how two birds can unexpectedly be killed with one stone in this way.

Next week, we are looking forward to working on ideas for live music within the piece and what role it might have. I, for one, am have excited about this. It is my belief that music in general has a unique ability to surround physical and visual work and lift it into becoming more present and vivid. So I’m hoping questions about tone and mood will be explored in workshops with live music. Perhaps it will be the topic of next week’s blog.

Monique Luckman