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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Writing challenges

The quest for a final version of a script often seems to be one that never ends. You can always go through a scene and tighten up a few lines ‘one last time’. And then one more last time after that. And a couple more revisions after that….

By the last few rehearsals you may not actually bother to adjust the actual script – if I look at the final drafts of previous shows they are always surpringingly different to what we actually did on the first night. That being said there is a distinct stage when you realise the latest draft is, well, pretty good. A draft you feel you could actually perform, or at the very least read-through without wincing at that crappy bit in scene 5.

It has been a tricky little writing process, mostly because it has the play changes tone so regularly. Obviously with any script, different scenes have different aims – one scene might just be there to introduce a character, another is to bring comic relief, etc. That rule is particularly stringent for The Ice Maiden as Hans Christian Andersen can vary the style from one chapter to another a great deal. Combined with our own plans for keeping the theatrical effects mixed-up can make scriptwriting a bit of a headache.

More than anything it’s a simple question of headspace as you have to change from writing a piece of narration, to a lighthearted piece of banter between two talking cats; from a naturalistic dinner scene to a thunderous, declamatory speech by the Ice Maiden. As it turns out we’re considerably stronger at writing the dramatic bits than we are at the simpler stuff, and have become quite efficient at combining the original text and our own writing together.

But dialogue-heavy scene are a different story altogether. Perhaps the lack of a jumping-off point is the problem – it is easy to find a well-written  descriptive passage that you can build around to creat a chunk of narration, while finding some of Andersen’s dialogue that isn’t pretty terrible is quite a challenge. In the end the best way we’ve discovered is storyboarding out what needs to happen in the scene, convert that into rough dialogue and then ‘age’ it by trying to find more archaic phrases for what you’re struggling to say. It certainly gets the scene done but they lack that little bit of detail that makes them seem more real, our dialogue often ends up being pointed and functional, lacking the filler that helps it flow.

Still at least it gives us something to use for rehearsals, and perhaps improvise around, though we’d probably have to then transcribe our improv lines and age them all over again. Will that work? Watch this space

The Ice Maiden

It’s about time I reveal the detail of our major new project – The Ice Maiden, inspired from the original short story by Hans Christian Anderson, a strange little fairy tale that will work as the source for a very SourDough adaptation.

Following on from the previous blog, I’ll summarise how we came across this relatively-unknown tale. Having decided that we wanted to do an adaptation of a pre-existing text, probably an archaic one with a nice mythological flavour, we ended up looking at a wide variety of classic stories from around the world, eventually narrowing it down to 2 possiblities – The Ice Maiden and The Odyssey. We were quite split over which one to do, but ultimately decided that while we had a lot of ideas for The Odyssey they were logistically and financially too ambitious right now – and so we came to The Ice Maiden.

Anderson’s story is pretty dark, a tale about a young man in Switzerland called Rudy, whose life is beset by an evil being, the queen of the glaciers, a force of icey rage from the natural world, the titular Ice Maiden. Its translated, archaic dialogue gives you a gothic richness, while also leaving room for our own writing to fill in the gaps inevitably left by the novel-play transisition. If you glance through the original text you can see the sort of thing many theatre companies would do with it, it would really work as a folksy, whimsical piece for children – Theatre Alibi would love to do this play.

But we wanted to do something a little more interesting. Family-orientated theatre has never been our thing and we saw a lot more potential in the story. Our version would be ‘multi-old-media’, deeply immersed in a morbid fairy-tale atmosphere, a world both beautiful and grotesque, illustrated with many of our favourite devices; shadows, projection and live music. If you’ve seen our previous productions the most similar we can compare it to is A Christmas Carol, at least in it’s more theatrical parts where we used several set devices to create the effects we wanted. We should be able to make this quite a fascinating performative journey though a dark little world.
We’ve been working on it for a few weeks now and are making steady progress. We started by repeatedly running through the text, working out how to change the structure, narrowing down the characters and gathering more and more ideas of what we wanted to try. A list of conventions was made – shadow puppets for animals, wooden puppets for children for instance – and gradually a script started taking form. It was a tricky one to write, mostly because we end up changing style so frequently; it is hard to change your mindset from planning a part-live, part-projected video dream sequence, to writing naturalistic dialogue for an awkward dinner scene. But we now have a working script and are beginning to create and experiment, bit-by-bit.

From now on we’ll try and keep this blog a little more updated, and give you all the latest news on the high and lows of making such a changeable, complex piece.

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!

Bond 24

Filming is going very well on our new mini-project, a brand new Bond film.

We’ve spent a lot of time analysing the films, identifying the plot structures, character motives and shots that so define the movies that are a genre in themselves. And as such we think we’ve managed to write a quite accurate parody, albeit one with a smaller FX budget. Most of the elements, both the ones you expect and the ones you are only subconsciously familiar with seem to be in there, so we’ve therefore titled our definitive Bond film You Only Let Die Anyone Who Loved Me Forever, in recognition of its status as a mash-up of multiple movies.

We won’t reveal too much of the plot, but we will say that it involves a shady corporation, a masterful villain, a variety of sexy and semi-helpless women, a large number of dead goons and plenty of painfully-shoehorned-in puns. And the title of every Bond film is mentioned somewhere in there…

Of course this is real budget movie-making with no extras, a Ford Fiesta for a gadget-equiped car and Devon standing in for Russia, Spain and Switzerland. It’s also taught us a lot of lessons about the difficulties of filmaking: how to pull off efffects; the problems of co-ordinating lighting, sound and composition into one shot; the pacing of scenes – trying to work out when you must have something going on constantly and when you need to let the camera linger to establish a mood, and so on.

Most importantly though it’s a lot of fun and our lets just say our outtakes reel isgetting  pretty full allready…