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

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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

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