It’s September, and London theatre is starting to come back to life after the last few months of sunny picnics, school holidays, and of course the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. The summer already seems like a dream, but before it slips away entirely, I wanted to chronicle the eventful few months I’ve had.
The Performance Lab got its first grant from Arts Council England, in support of a week-long residency at Theatre Delicatessen’s Old Library. We created an all-new 20-minute version of Home Is Where, with the new contextual framework of a story library – which has the potential to let our interviews really shine. The residency brought together my determined long-time collaborators Guleraana Mir, Sharlit Deyzac, and Yaiza Varona, and several wonderful new additions to the cast and creative team: performers Carmina Bernhardt, Rachel Handshaw, Bert Roman, and Andrew Troy, as well as movement director Elizabeth Mary Williams. Having so many new people in the room gave me the perfect opportunity to try out Open Space as a method for devising, which allowed everyone to contribute to the making of the piece.
We came up with some exciting new ideas for an interactive full-length Home Is Where, to take place in actual public library spaces… this project has been years and years in the making, but now I think we’re getting very close to the right performance format for these verbatim stories. The epiphany from our Theatre Deli performance was breaking down the barriers between the stage and the spectator, inspired in part by the performance space, which doesn’t allow for a traditional actor/audience divide. We gave the headphones to audience members and asked them to say what they heard. We were so surprised and delighted at how well people were able to speak along with the recordings, and really pleased at how this interactivity brought the audience closer to the interview material.
A big thank you to the Arts Council, Theatre Delicatessen, and the cracking team of cross-cultural artists who have brought Home Is Where to life! I’m so excited for our next steps in this new direction.
I spent a week in the highlands of Scotland at Invererne Creative Residency. It’s run by fantastically generous facilitators Cara Verkerk and Hugh Grant-Peterkin, who created an inspiring and open environment for the eleven interdisciplinary artists attending. There were a few other theatre makers, some composers, photographers, filmmakers, a painter, a poet, a ceramicist… in short, a rich mix of artists with different ways of thinking and creating work.
I ran a skill share session on Open Space, and how I use the format to create performance. Others shared their various practices, including detailed observation (crucial to film-making; ‘writing a film script is basically describing things’ according to my fellow resident artist Vappu Tuomisto), and vocal techniques in a really fun session titled ‘honest noisemaking.’ Painter Marissa Stoffer asked us all to collect objects from nature, which we then painted. I used the colours to trace the spiral shape of a pinecone; I’ve been really interested lately in the idea that this spiral shape is everywhere in the universe: pinecones, sunflowers, the Milky Way galaxy…
All this exposure to visual arts got me thinking about my work in a different way. The spiral shape resurfaced throughout the week and helped me restructure the ever-evolving script for The Helen Project. I’ve been resisting (for about the last 7 years) the idea of presenting Helen’s story in a traditional linear story arch in a one-hour proscenium performance, and the spiral structure has unlocked some exciting new possibilities.
I’m also really pleased to see how this piece is being affected by my shift from text-first traditional theatre to devised performance over the last five years or so. I’m not thinking of it as ‘writing a solo show’ anymore; I’m putting together some text for making a solo performance. And the act of putting text into a document is stirring up all kinds of ideas for movement, music, and design…
After the residency, I’ve really got a fire under me to get a new version of Helen onstage soon, aiming to finish the text by the end of the year and get cracking with some new collaborators. I left Invererne refreshed, inspired, and determined to go to a residency once a year for the rest of my creative life. I can’t recommend it enough!
It’s been a couple of years since I made it to the Edinburgh Fringe, but this year I was at the festival for three weeks! I’ve been having a hard time answering the question, ‘how was your Edinburgh?’ because… it was… everything. It was fun and inspiring and frustrating and exhausting and exhilarating and lonely and interesting and boring and hard work and I learned a lot.
I saw 45 performances. I even loved some of them. I only hated a tiny handful. A great many were just okay. I ran into a bunch of people I knew, including a few who I hadn’t seen in years, despite living in the same city. I met loads of new people, and handed out flyers for the World Theatre Map (which you should totally get onto if you’re not already). I walked up Arthur’s Seat on my own, which was beautiful and just what I needed on that particular day.
I spent a lot of time at the Pleasance, where I was supervising a group of young people performing as part of the Pleasance Futures programme. I spent a lot of time at Summerhall, too, seeing some brilliant international and experimental theatre, and dance. I thought a lot about what it would take to bring my own work to the festival – whether I want to, and when that might be possible…
Summer feels definitively over, everyone is back from the Fringe, and I’m making myself a new pair of slippers to keep away the chill.
I’ve clearly got my work cut out for me with the continued development of Home Is Where… and The Helen Project. September is already off to a racing start with preparations for the London Devised Theatre Intensive, which I’ll be facilitating in October. Plus Theatre Delicatessen is hosting a meeting of the GAP Salon (Gender and Performance) next week in their new Broadgate space. I’m excited to be rebooting the discussion and action group I started back in 2013… details are here on the facebook event.
The autumn is promising to be just as busy and creative as the summer, and will probably be gone in a flash just like these last few months. You can stay up to date with the day-to-day goings on by following the Performance Lab facebook page or @AmyClareTasker on Twitter. Thanks for reading!
In 2012, I went to Directors Lab West, an 8-day intensive for directors in Pasadena, California. I took a week off from my office job to go, and saved money on the trip by sharing a hotel room with another director. I didn’t really know what to expect, but I took a leap of faith that it would be interesting and useful.
It changed my life.
I wrote about each day of the Lab in a series of blog posts. You can read those here if you like – but in short, being in that intensive environment crystalised something for me about the artist and person I wanted to be. I finished up the projects I was working on in San Francisco, and I moved to London in July 2013.
At the time, I was starting to figure out that I wanted to make a kind of theatre that I wasn’t seeing on stage locally. I did some research into getting an MA in devised theatre – but the price of the programmes, and the idea of disappearing into academia for a year or two, has dissuaded me for now. I took some one-off masterclasses with artists who were making the kind of work I was interested in. I talked to people. I read books. I saw shows, I saw shows, I saw shows.
I really missed that intensive environment. I found Devoted & Disgruntled, an annual Open Space event where I connected with new collaborators and had transformative conversations about my work and my career. It’s absolutely brilliant – but we weren’t making work. I found the Young Vic Directors Network, where I met other directors and took a wide range of workshops. It’s a fantastic programme – but it’s not really geared towards directors of devised theatre. I created a company to make my own work – but that means months of producing behind the scenes to make even a short R&D project happen. (Nonetheless, I heartily recommend all of the above.)
Four years after moving to London, I’m still looking for a rocket ship of inspiration and possibility like the one I was riding after Directors Lab West. So I’ve created the programme I want to see: the London Devised Theatre Intensive.
In October this year, brilliant guest artists Bryony Kimmings, Kristine Landon-Smith, Tom Mansfield, Nir Paldi, and Lee Simpson will teach masterclasses in their favourite devising techniques. Theatre makers attending the workshop will lead peer practice exchange sessions to share how they work. Every day, we will put those new methods to use by making performances together.
By the end of the two-week programme, each attending artist will have learned 5 new techniques from master artists and 8 new techniques from their peers, been inspired by 3 professional devised theatre productions, and created their own devised performance.
As well as the creative work, there’s a strong professional development side to the Intensive. Laura Lundy, executive director of our partner Blue Panther Productions (San Francisco & international), will coach artists on how to ‘get visible and get produced.’ We’ll celebrate the end of the Intensive with a New Work Happy Hour, where our theatre makers will get the chance to chat with artistic directors and producers about their work.
I wish I could participate in the Devised Theatre Intensive myself! But I am so excited to facilitate this programme for a room full of fellow theatre makers. It will certainly be interesting and useful. It will launch a rocket of inspiration and possibility for everyone who attends.
Will it change your life? I’m fully expecting it to change mine.
Details of the programme and how to apply are at www.devisedtheatre.com.
Limited places; apply by 30 June 2017.
Home Is Where… is going places! Last month, Guleraana and I presented our project at the Families in Global Transition conference in the Netherlands, and we’ve just returned from New York, where we connected with other verbatim theatre makers at the NYU Forum on Ethnodrama.
I was so excited to meet this community and see how many of us are exploring ways to create innovative, dynamic performances with verbatim material. Johnny Saldaña led us through a workshop on devising ethnodrama, creating a movement sequence with a cast of more than 30, using text from his project Volcano about the eruption of Mount St Helens. In just a couple of hours, we had created a complex, beautiful, expressive performance.
Later in the conference, Thomas Murray and Kristin Rose Kelly led a session on creating performance from personal memories of a mass media event. We created a movement score out of gestures inspired by the facts of the events, and then layered our personal text on top. This technique – which they’ve learned from Celeste Miller in their MFA course at Virginia Tech, Directing and Public Dialogue – generated some really surprising performances, combining text and movement in an unexpected way. At the end, I felt like I had tricked myself into making something out of the ordinary, and I was delighted. I’ll definitely bring this into rehearsals for our next phase of Home Is Where!
In another session, teaching artist Blake McCarty led us through an accelerated version of his process for making verbatim theatre with high school students, starting with the question of what to make work about, and coming to a consensus from 40 different ideas. I left with a useful model for a more concrete and structured process, and an idea for a new project which I can’t shake… stay tuned about that…
And of course, Guleraana and I presented our work, and Home Is Where… was very well received. Our workshop focused on headphone verbatim, a technique which appears to be much less known in the US compared to the UK. We combined some of our audio clips from the Oral History Library with tableaux created by the participants in response to our discussions on home and identity. One of the questions we asked was ‘what does it feel like to belong?’ which generated a beautiful, cozy tableaux titled ‘Home Is Like a Blanket.’
We also discovered another possible application for headphone verbatim – one of the participants told me after the workshop that she had not performed in years because she gets hit by anxiety as soon as she steps on stage. But she was so curious to try the headphone verbatim technique that she bravely volunteered and delivered a beautiful performance. She said that it was completely different to performing any other way, and she was too busy listening to the story to get anxious.
Outside of the conference, I had a few days in town to catch up with friends, some of whom I hadn’t seen since I graduated from UC Irvine in 2007! Despite all the technology at our fingertips, there’s no substitute for meeting face to face. For two glorious days I did nothing but eat and talk, two of my favourite things. It was so exciting to hear about what my fearless friends are up to: graduate programmes, 48-hour film challenges, casting and designing for theatre and film, running their own theatre companies, designing alternate reality apps for guerrilla performance… I know some amazing people.
Next year’s NYU Forum is on Performance as Activism. That’s obviously right up my street, so I’ll have to figure out a way to get back to New York in April 2018. For now, though, I’ve got plenty to do here in London (including replenishing my bank account after these two international trips…)
Speaking of which, thank you so much to everyone who has contributed to our crowdfunding campaign! Your support means so much to me, and every donation helps! We’ll leave the link online for another few days in case anyone else is inspired to chip in a few spare pennies. (Click here or on the image.)
Guleraana and I are back in London, after a whirlwind week at the Families in Global Transition conference in The Hague, Netherlands. It was an inspiring, identity-affirming, provocative, exhausting few days with hundreds of fellow cross-culture people, educators, psychologists, researchers, writers, and others who work with globally-mobile communities. Our tribe.
We presented some video and audio from a recent performance of Home Is Where… and demonstrated our accompanying cross-culture drama workshop. Guleraana is an absolute champion, squeezing what’s usually a 2-hour workshop into 30 minutes!
It was wonderful to run the workshop with a group of people who had already spent a day and a half at the conference (and quite a bit of their lives and careers), thinking deeply about ideas of home, identity, culture, and belonging.
After some get-to-know-you warm up games, we asked, ‘What does home mean to you?’ and jotted down the responses on a flip chart. The familiar themes of family, comfort, memory… and the deer-in-headlights ‘uhhhhhh….’ that so many TCKs and CCKs identify with.
This group also came up with a few that we hadn’t heard before: ‘it’s where I go to the dentist’ was one-upped by ‘where I go to the gynaecologist!’ And then someone shouted out, ‘Radishes!’ and explained that growing and eating radishes from her own garden made her feel at home. Radishes are such a specific example, but the feeling of growing your own food is something universal. I can get behind the idea that home is where the radishes grow.
From the brainstorm, we created tableaux of the themes – ‘frozen pictures’ that can become the starting point for a scene. I was intrigued by the challenge of making a tableaux of ‘radishes’ so of course I immediately joined that group.
Others created pictures of a giant question mark on the floor, a child swinging between two parents, and yes, even a gynaecologist’s office.
We hope that the teachers, coaches, and psychologists who joined us will be inspired to bring drama games and storytelling into their work with students and clients…
And in a few weeks time, we’ll be doing it all again, but in a sort of opposite way. At FIGT, we were sharing drama techniques with cross-cultural experts; at the NYU Forum on Ethnodrama, we’ll be introducing the idea of Third Culture Kids to our colleagues in the theatre community.
(If anyone from the FIGT session has any feedback or ideas that could help our next presentation, we’d love to hear them! Comment below or email me: [email protected])
And of course, I can’t leave out our crowdfunding link… Guleraana and I are freelance artists, investing in the future of our project Home Is Where… by attending these conferences. Can you help us get there? Thank you!
I absolutely detest being told, ‘that’s a good problem to have’.
It started as a pet peeve many years ago when I was running a box office and our ‘good problem’ was having sold more tickets than we had seats. Great, you may think – a sold out show! Unless you’re the person who has to tell audience members who have bought a ticket that there’s nowhere for them to sit. It might be a ‘good problem’, but it’s still a problem. It doesn’t go away just because it’s been caused by success. And it doesn’t go away just because I have to solve it and not the person saying, ‘oh, that’s a good problem to have’ and then waltzing off. It’s the dismissal of the problem that irks me the most.
It’s been a long time since I’ve run a box office, but the ‘good problem to have’ refrain recently resurfaced in a totally different way. Last week was particularly stressful, for reasons to do with a bunch of projects taking a big step forward. All at the same time. Like buses, you wait* forever and then four come at once. (‘Wait’ in this instance is more like ‘work your tail off’, of course.)
Guleraana and I are heading to the Netherlands next week for the Families in Global Transition (FIGT) conference. We’re going to share some information about our project Home Is Where… and demonstrate the interactive drama workshop that explores the themes of the play. Very exciting! A somewhat expensive trip, but worth the tax-deductible investment, we think.
Then, we’re invited to speak at the NYU Forum on Ethnodrama! A conference full of theatre makers and academics who study theatre, talking about a very specific style of theatre that directly relates to what we’re doing! Look at us go, we’ve got some serious momentum here! But flights to New York are more expensive than trains to the Netherlands – and oof, it’s just a month after FIGT. Not to mention the cumulative opportunity cost of not working for the times we’re away…
This is a ‘good problem’ right? The kind I’m not supposed to complain about because it looks like success. It’s still stressing me out, though.
And then I’m offered some much-needed project development space… for the exact same dates that I’ve been planning another big project. There’s no flexibility on dates for either one, so I now need to choose between the thing I’ve been working on for the last three years or the cool new festival I’ve volunteered to lead.
And I suddenly think: there is no such thing as a ‘good problem’. What’s unique about this week is that it’s full of new problems. That’s why it’s so difficult to deal with. My old problems may be frustrating, but they are comfortable and familiar. I know what I need to do about them… and I’ve done it, and the solution to the old problems produces a whole new set of problems.
In a way, that’s what I do as a theatre maker. I have an idea for a project, and I solve all the problems in my way until the project happens. I try not to worry about the problems I can’t anticipate, the ones that are there lurking behind solutions to other problems…
Employing a ‘we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it’ philosophy is usually pretty helpful – it means I can focus on solving the problem that’s right in front of me, and it stops me from becoming so overwhelmed that I stop making progress. But once in a while, it does mean I get smacked with a new problem out of the blue.
In the end, I don’t remember ever having to tell an audience member that they didn’t have a seat even though they’d bought a ticket. It does tend to work out, actually, overselling a show by about 5%. There’s always someone who doesn’t turn up at the last minute for any number of reasons – babysitters, weather, illness, traffic, the world sometimes comes between an audience member and the theatre ticket they bought. Probably the person who dismissed my concern by saying it was ‘a good problem to have’ was used to dealing with that problem. They probably didn’t even realise that it was a new problem for me, or that their response made me feel more stressed out because I was alone in having to solve it.
If there’s any value in the phrase ‘a good problem to have’, it’s the suggestion of perspective. I am trying to take a little time to be excited about these opportunities – to appreciate that my stress levels shooting through the roof is the result of hard work paying off. I still say my new problems are legit problems, but okay, yes, it’s ‘good’ that I’m here dealing with these problems now instead of the old ones.
You can help me solve one of my new problems by chipping in to the crowd-funding campaign to help me and Guleraana attend these two fabulous conferences… thank you!
What a milestone! Home Is Where… finally had its first full-length performance on 2nd September at Rich Mix, a fantastically supportive and welcoming multi-arts venue in East London. Huge thanks are due to the wonderful team there, and of course to the extremely dedicated and talented cast and creative team of Home Is Where…: writer Guleraana Mir, producer Clarissa Widya, composer and sound designer Yaiza Varona, movement director Paula Paz, and performers Sharlit Deyzac, Joanna Greaney, Leonora Fyfe, Mark Ota, and Kal Sabir.
As well as celebrating what we’ve achieved in this latest phase of the project, I also want to take a moment to acknowledge that this was probably the most challenging creative process I’ve ever experienced. It’s the largest team I’ve ever led, the most personal show I’ve ever created, the most technically ambitious project I’ve ever attempted, and also the shortest period I’ve ever given myself to achieve all these things. Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised, then, that the performance itself represents the biggest gap between the astronomical potential of the idea and the reality of what we’ve been able to put on stage so far. It’s been a long road already, and we still have a long way to go, but we will get there.
I believe in this project, and this team, and this incredibly difficult but brilliant process of devising. I believe that the raw materials of this project are truly special, and that our interviews with dozens of Third Culture Kids will make urgent, powerful, necessary theatre. I believe in the risks that we’ve taken, and I believe they will pay off in the final production.
In our scratch performance back in January, we focused on dynamic ways to present the verbatim interviews, using movement and music to enhance the headphone verbatim performance. The result was fun and maybe a bit too upbeat to be a true reflection of the TCK experience. We also felt that what we’d made lacked an overall narrative, something to give it the drive necessary for a full-length show.
So in this R&D performance, we looked for shadows to balance out that bright tone – and we didn’t have to look far, thanks to the Brexit vote happening in the middle of our devising process. We created a narrative-heavy dystopian world that almost swallowed up our interviews, the most rich and beautiful element of the project. Now that we’ve found those extremes of tone and form – and a lot of really interesting performance techniques – we can choose where to steer the next version of the play…
I’ve learned a lot over the last year as we’ve created this new company and started to bring Home Is Where… to life. And I still have a lot of questions, too, which I know can only be answered by continuing to make work, both this piece and future projects, too. These are questions I’m going to spend the next 10 years of my career answering. Maybe more…
How can you tell from ten separate phone calls and coffee dates how a new company is going to work together? How can you guess how much devising time, writing time, and rehearsal time a new piece is going to need? How can you invite an audience into the creative process so that they’re expecting a piece in development, while still giving them an excellent and exciting performance to enjoy? How do you manage expectations – on both sides of the fourth wall – and keep the pressure of performance from short-cutting the process of creating the best possible piece of theatre?
And now… what’s next?
Well, first off, there are several other aspects of this project that we’re developing alongside the performance. Guleraana delivered a pre-show workshop in partnership with Hope Not Hate, which was a great success and loads of fun. She used drama games and lively discussion to explore the themes of the play, and we’re tailoring her plans for a visit to an international school next week. She and I will co-facilitate, with two of our actors demonstrating their headphone verbatim technique by sharing some of our TCK stories. I can’t wait!
We’ve also got loads of encouraging, helpful feedback from our audience to consider before heading back into a new script development phase. I’m sure it won’t be long before we get out trusty sticky notes again and have a crack at a brand new draft…
It’s been a couple of weeks since our final devising session of the summer, and we’ve said goodbye for now to our wonderful and generous friends at Kings Place Music Foundation, who welcomed us for six weeks of testing out new performance techniques, developing characters, and knitting together our creative team.
I detailed our progress from the first four weeks of devising in a previous blog post here. So, to continue the story:
In our fifth session, we explored different modes of performing verbatim material from our interviews (which you can listen to on our Oral History Library on Soundcloud), created a beautiful ritual for the characters’ transition from the Resistance reality into the verbatim reality, sorted out some of the technical logistics of our headphone verbatim technique, improvised a soundscape of the Resistance HQ where the play takes place, and played a very fun and illuminating game with movement director Paula Paz to discover new dimensions of character relationships.
(I also discovered a catch to our system of documenting the devising sessions with Google Hangout On Air broadcasts: it only works if you press START BROADCAST at the beginning!! I went to turn the thing off at the end and realised that it had not been recording for the past 4 hours while we were being brilliant. Just an unfortunate mistake, but it got me thinking about how much tech I’m able to handle all at once… with the projection set-up, bluetooth speakers, headphones and verbatim audio players, the extra video was apparently just one thing too many. One day we’ll have a stage manager…)
In our sixth and final session (which I did manage to document), we really hit our stride with bringing together the different elements of the performance, and sharing leadership among our creative team. Composer Yaiza Varona led an improvisation of a new “Nationless Anthem” based on her original composition for our scratch performances earlier this year, with the cast deconstructing and remixing new lyrics from writer Guleraana Mir. Paula led the cast through a “military training” exercise that will form the basis of a Resistance montage, and Guleraana brought in some new pages of text inspired by the previous weeks of character and narrative development in devising. Producer Clarissa Widya and I led a big-picture discussion at the beginning and end of the day, looking ahead to our rehearsal period at Rich Mix and inviting feedback and impulses from the ensemble.
And then, just like that, devising is done and we’re on to the next phase: shaping all these impulses, elements, and ideas into a coherent and cohesive script. Guleraana and I got together with a stack of sticky notes (one of my all-time favourite creative tools!) and made a list of the Things We Could Do: ideas of visual moments, technical possibilities, thematic concepts, character relationships… Those became magenta sticky notes: “political context soundscape,” “tweets from outside HQ,” “headphone verbatim broadcast projection,” “lighting actors with torches in blackout.”
Some of those ideas have narratives intrinsically attached to them, so we started putting them together with plot points, things we knew we wanted to happen during the course of the play, and developments in character relationships.
Before long, our sticky notes found their way into a rough 3-act structure, which Guleraana has sent off to the cast and creative team. Now she’s working on putting dialogue into the framework, I’m combing through our 30+ hours of verbatim interview material to choose sections to feature, Yaiza is starting to write music for the opening soundscape, and Paula is sketching out a choreography to teach the cast on our first day of rehearsal. Clarissa is creating beautiful flyers and getting the word out to audiences about the show (among about a thousand other things – producing is a hugely varied and demanding job!).
In a perfect world, we’d have more time (read: funding) to develop the overall structure with the cast, layering in their impulses, new character discoveries, alternative narrative ideas, more complex technical designs, and working together to fill in the details of the big picture. As it stands, we won’t know until we start our rehearsals at Rich Mix (in just two weeks’ time!) exactly how all the elements will all come together, and then we’ll have just 8 rehearsal days before Home Is Where takes the stage.
But this is a surprising and fruitful way to make theatre, an exhilarating risk we take with our work, and I am so excited to share our hot-off-the-press play. It’s been years of development (we started interviewing Third Culture Kids in 2014) and yet it still feels “soon” to be bringing Home Is Where to its first audience. And in some ways, this performance at Rich Mix is just the beginning: from here, we’re planning a longer run of performances in London (probably after further edits to the script, another rehearsal period, and an expansion of our design team), and eventually a tour around the UK.
For now, this is your chance to catch Home Is Where! Tickets are available now on the Rich Mix website for our one-night-only performance on the 2nd of September – and check out Guleraana’s free pre-show workshop, using performance games and inclusive discussion to delve into the themes of the play: home, culture, and belonging. The workshop is offered in partnership with HOPE not hate as part of their #MoreInCommon campaign. September 2-4 is a national Weekend of HOPE.
Stay tuned for more updates from the rehearsal room shortly! Thanks for reading.
It’s so great to get back into the devising process with our wonderful TCK team! After our scratch at Camden People’s Theatre in January, we’re now working towards the first full-length performance of Home Is Where… which we’ll present at Rich Mix on 2nd September.
I’m so delighted to be working with some new collaborators: producer Clarissa Widya; multimedia consultant Ilayda Arden, sound designer Keri Chesser, and performer Leonora Fyfe; as well as continuing to collaborate with writer Guleraana Mir, composer Yaiza Varona, movement director Paula Paz and performers Sharlit Deyzac, Joanna Greaney, Mark Ota, and Kal Sabir. For anyone who’s counting, that’s a team of 12 third culture and cross culture artists!
So yes, it’s a small miracle to get all of us in the same place at the same time (especially without any funding at this still-early stage)! But we’re being supported by Kings Place Music Foundation, which has provided space for 6 weekly devising sessions through the summer, and we’re making great progress towards a cohesive narrative frame in which to present the verbatim interview material, character development, and exciting new performance techniques for movement, music, and multimedia.
I’ve been having a great time digging through old notebooks, remembering various exercises and games for devising that could help us to explore new ideas and impulses. We’ve brought in elements of Anne Bogart and Tina Landau’s Viewpoints technique, games from Jessica Swale’s excellent book “Games for Devising,” and exercises adapted from workshops I’ve taken over the years with the Young Vic Directors Programme, FanShen Theatre, Directors Lab West, and other occasions when I’ve been lucky enough to drop in and observe other directors at work.
And of course, one of the many benefits of collaborating with artists who work in other disciplines is that they bring their experience and techniques from movement, dance, music, and even video game performance. Where all these things meet, Home Is Where is slowly coming into being.
We’ve found a new way of documenting our sessions that might be of interest to any other devisers out there: Google+ Hangouts on Air. It just requires a computer with a webcam and wifi, and allows us to broadcast the session live as well as automatically archive it to YouTube immediately afterwards. (You can adjust the sharing sessions so that no one can find the video without the link.) No more hauling in a camera, tripod, and extra batteries, and no more hours of uploading at home.
The sound is not great in a larger room, and we’ve learned the hard way that discussions held more than about 10 feet from the camera are impossible to make out afterwards. So now when we debrief on a new discovery in devising, we circle up with the computer sitting on the floor alongside us.
Okay, cool, but what are we actually doing?
Taking some feedback we received from our scratch performances, and our own feeling that we needed more narrative drive to sustain a full-length piece, Guleraana and I invented a framework for a story taking place in a far-right political dystopia, in which everyone Not From Here is being sent back where they came from.
(We came up with this before the Brexit vote, but of course, everything that’s happened since then has heavily informed our devising – and made the piece all that more urgent.)
In the first couple of sessions, we focused on character development within our new dystopia framework. One of my favourite exercises was “interviewing” the character about their backstory, attitudes to the others in the world of the play, and how they can contribute to The Resistance. We also got a lot of information out of a “Likert Scale” exercise – asking the actors to position themselves along a linear scale ranging from “strongly agree” to “strongly disagree” in response to various questions. It’s a great way to make some instinctive character decisions without too much thinking or talking – and a very helpful visual representation of which characters might be allies and which might have some conflict.
Our third session was the Monday after Brexit, so we used the weekend’s news and political punditry to stimulate some composition exercises and to generate our “Dystopia Timeline” – a silent brainstorm with blue tac and index cards, of all the events that might happen between the present day and our fictional (we hope!) dystopia.
In our fourth session, our multimedia consultant Ilayda Arden joined us to try out some different ways we could use projection to enhance the storytelling. Using her background in video game theatre with her company Block Stop, Ilayda ran us through some different ways for the characters to interact with a projected image. We’re still finding the “rules” of our performance – how will the dystopia feel, look, move? How does the verbatim material relate to the scripted material? What does it all sound like? Composer Yaiza Varona is working on some ideas for a “Nationless Anthem” – I can’t wait to hear what that’s going to be!
Over the next two weeks, we’ll have two more devising sessions. Number five will bring in sound designer Keri Chesser to help us find the best set-up for our verbatim audio playback, and explore the physicality of the dystopia with movement director Paula Paz. (I’m quite keen to develop a secret handshake for our Resistance characters.) And our sixth session will probably focus on trying out some new text from writer Guleraana Mir, in preparation for the scripting phase, taking place between the end of devising and our August rehearsals at Rich Mix.
I feel so lucky to be working with this brilliant team! Even in just 4 hours a week, we’re making huge leaps forward with the show and with the creation of a solid ensemble. We’re starting to speak the same language and get into the groove of working together – and yet because of our different backgrounds, the room is buzzing with impulses and approaches which unlock new and surprising ideas. This is why I come back to devising and collaboration again and again: two brains are always better than one. Or twelve brains, in this case.
Stay tuned for more devising updates over the next couple of weeks – and check out Home Is Where on the Rich Mix website. Tickets are already on sale!
I was honoured to be invited to the 2016 Families in Global Transition conference in Amsterdam, as a David C. Pollock Scholar. Over three packed days, a few hundred Third Culture Kids, expats, immigrants, and nomads gathered together to explore the deep connections of our international community, and new ways to build bridges to the wider world.
Families in Global Transition is a welcoming forum for globally mobile individuals, families, and those working with them. We promote cross-sector connections for sharing research and developing best practices that support the growth, success and well-being of people crossing cultures around the world. www.figt.org
I’m still processing the incredible time I had in Amsterdam, meeting loads of new people, talking about my work in a new way (everyone there already knew about Third Culture Kids – so the element that needed to be explained was experimental verbatim theatre), and learning about all the wonderful initiatives and resources out there for TCKs and globally mobile families.
There was a huge focus on empathy and storytelling, on compassion, on inclusivity, on research, on understanding, on bridge-building. There was a palpable sense of welcome; even though plenty of people were celebrating an annual reunion with friends from around the world, I never felt left out as a first-timer.
Instead, I was in awe of the inspiring history of this community, the TCK pioneers who first gave us a name, pushed for research funding, and put us on the map. The conference itself has grown from a kitchen table conversation in Indianapolis in 1997 to an international event this year. (Next time I’m feeling frustrated about how long it takes to conceive, fund, produce, and create a piece of theatre, I will think of Ruth Van Reken and her 20-year vision.)
It’s difficult to summarise those three busy days into something coherent, so I’ll choose to focus on a new idea that popped up, about how Home Is Where… might contribute to the bigger picture of what’s happening with TCKs all over the world.
It’s always been my ambition to tour the production beyond London – I know that it’s going to be a challenge just to get the minimal team of 7 of us on the road, along with all our props, set, and other equipment. I want to take these stories out to areas of the country that have less exposure to “Others,” where we can offer an alternative to fear-based mainstream messages about people who are “not from here.”
Lately I’ve been wondering about touring even beyond the UK, to festivals and venues in Europe. It’s even more of a logistical challenge, but there are specific funding opportunities for artists bringing their work across cultures and across borders, especially into Europe (…for now. We’ll see what happens with UK’s EU Referendum…)
And then at FIGT, the whole world opens up, and I started to wonder if we could take this to Hong Kong or Singapore, where there are huge communities of internationally mobile people. What about South Africa? Brazil? The States? At what point does this become too big, too expensive, too long-term? (After all, I’m sure my wonderful cast will want to perform in other pieces of theatre eventually…) Is there some other heart of the project that can become internationally mobile, something that’s easier to move than 7 artists?
I’ve forgotten who said the word “franchisable” to me, in passing, after a session about something else. Thank you, mystery muse! A revolutionary word, an idea so big that in the moment, the logical (stubborn) part of my brain said “No, that’s not what we’re doing. That’s not what I was thinking at all.” But of course, one of the central tenets of devising theatre is that the best idea in the room wins, and it can come from anywhere. Even if it totally upends everything you were thinking, it’s the best idea in the room. And it wins.
So that idea kept working on me, and became this:
What if we created a version of Home Is Where… that could tour WITHOUT US? Not to replace the London production and UK/European tour – because I still want to take the piece to new communities and foster dialogue there, find out what people are thinking, run workshops with audiences – but to supplement our in-person work and send these ideas out to places in the world we can’t get to. Because we are finite human beings, with finite time and resources.
What if we published a “create your own” Home Is Where… so that teachers at international schools could do their own version of the piece with their students? There would be a central story with central characters that don’t change – the bit we’re writing and devising this summer – and then students could do interviews in their own communities which would be popped into the existing structure of the piece. Choose 3 responses to the question “where are you from” and insert them here between scenes 1 and 2. Choose 2 stories about feeling out of place and insert them here between scenes 3 and 4. Plug and play verbatim theatre.
Home Is Where… might have just become truly global in its potential. And I think I’ve just signed up a few extra years of my life to this project. Let’s go.
Everything feels just a little bit more possible, nested in the supportive community of Families in Global Transition. I’ve become an FIGT member so I can keep in touch throughout the year, and hopefully get myself back to Amsterdam in 2017 (our first stop on a European tour of Home Is Where…?). I’ve made new connections in the UK and all over the world, people who are interested in getting involved, telling their stories, supporting the piece, suggesting tour venues, bringing their local communities to the theatre.
Huge thanks to everyone at the conference this year, and especially to Michael Pollock and the scholarship committee for inviting me to join you all. Three cheers for the TCK tribe!
I’ve recently set up a Patreon campaign where you can support my work “per epiphany.” Patreon is a new model for funding artists, based on a very old model for funding artists: patronage. Many of us currently work project-to-project, and it’s difficult to maintain a reliable income that way. So Patreon allows supporters to pay small amounts for small milestones along the way to those big projects. I’ve chosen the “epiphany” as my unit of measurement for progress towards my goals.
So here’s my first Patreon-supported epiphany:
I went to a course yesterday offered by the Independent Theatre Council, on starting a performing arts company. It’s only been a couple of months since I decided “Okay Okay, I’m Starting a Theatre Company” and now I’m getting into the nitty-gritty of it. The morning was a bit scary, a three-hour deluge of things I hadn’t thought of yet, that I would now have to deal with, learn more about, and fill out forms for.
When I first moved to London, I made peace with the idea that I was starting again in a new theatre world, with a new network to build and new systems to figure out. It’s been a while since I’ve felt as lost as when I first arrived. I’m not normally apprehensive about legal and financial best practices, having served for 3 years as general manager for the Cutting Ball Theater in San Francisco. I know my way around a spreadsheet and a contract. But the systems of a 501(c)3 non-profit organisation in the United States and the systems of various company structures here in the UK are not the same. At all. The funding landscape is totally different. Employment law is totally different. Even the names for things are totally different.
Around 12:30 I was starting to think: ooh. I didn’t know I didn’t know this stuff. Maybe I’m not ready for this. Everyone said it was not that big a deal to set up a company. But there seems to be a lot to get my head around. There’s already so much work to do, to create and direct a piece of theatre, and now all this about employment law and company accounts? And I can get funding from the Arts Council as an individual (in theory) so maybe I should just…not do this?
And then I had another cup of coffee, chatted with a fellow performance maker over lunch, and we realised that actually the scary things were to do with being responsible for other artists, employing people, treating our collaborators well. Which actually, whether I’m making my work as an individual or as a company, I need to sort that stuff out. And actually, the company paperwork is the easiest part of all this.
So I pulled myself together and turned a new page in my notebook. The afternoon was full of more helpful advice and greater detail about what we’d covered in the morning. There’s still a lot more to work out, but how will I learn until I do it? This is the journey from unfunded individual artist to professional performance company. I’m sure there will be a lot of epiphanies along the way. Not least: don’t do it alone.
If anyone else out there is thinking of starting a theatre company, I’m happy to share my notes and impressions from the course. ITC offers the course 2-3 times a year – keep an eye on their website for the upcoming sessions in August (Edinburgh) or later in the autumn (London). Or you can become a member and get advice year-round.