Devising Home Is Where… (again!)

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!