A weekend of sport and drama …

On Sunday I had to drag myself away from watching the Paralympics on TV to go to observe a Baz workshop. My recent obsession with sport has come as a surprise. I was one of the people who sneered at the Olympic games as they approached and then have spent the rest of the summer completely sport mad. Channel Four’s amazing advertising campaign rang true – the Olympics felt like the starter and the Paralympics the main course and on reflection I think the Paralympics and Baz having many things in common…let me explain.

The Paralympics has traditionally been seen as the poor relation to the Olympic games and there hasn’t been an appetite for sport where the athletes have disabilities. It isn’t exciting, they’re not as good and mainly, there just isn’t the audience. The Paralympics 2012 has blown its critics out of the water – it is as exciting, they are as good and you only have to look at the packed stadiums to know that there is the audience. I think there is a similar attitude to experimental theatre – it is assumed that it isn’t the same audience as West End commercial theatre. When you think about a devised show about the Classic Greek Myths shown in an Art Gallery in Shoreditch it sounds like a minority interest for arty types. But if Baz stays true to its desire to create work with the excitement and tension of a sporting event then without a doubt there is a hungry audience out there.

I sat in the dark corner of the workshop watching the actors play games, improvise scenes and work on the text. There was a dramatic moment where Sarah took an arm to the face during a ball game and split her lip (perhaps in future she will not start a game with “I’m in charge and I can change the rules at any moment”!) but its the emotional punches that are the most memorable.

It was exciting to be present when the actors were given a script for the first time – several scenes had been written up from the exercises they’d been working on. Devising the play means that they are essentially getting rid of any writer. This is something I have always been suspicious of (which is completely separate from my own desire to be a writer, obviously!). I felt that by doing this, it was denying the play is most powerful element. However, watching the actors at work that afternoon proved enlightening in this respect. When actors are working with a script, they are usually exploring the discoveries of one person, the writer, but here the actors were exploring the discoveries they themselves had made and that didn’t feel any less legitimate. For me I felt as though it bridged the gap between drama and reality. If I needed any further reassurance about the power of the discoveries in workshops, I witnessed a moment which I’m still thinking about over a week later.

During one exercise the actors were asked to write down a series of ‘Prophesies’ to their ten year old selves. This was the message they would have given the child they used to be, in order to prepare themself for their own future. The pieces of paper were put in a bowl and picked out at random by each actor to use in a stream of consciousness exercise where the prophesy itself was not heard. As the exercise ended we were about to take a break when, as an afterthought, it was suggested that the messages were read out loud. The author of each prophesy would be kept anonymous and everyone took it in turns to read them.

They were mostly predictable – aimed at inspiring and reassuring their ten year old self – “The best is yet to come”, “stop obsessing about things, soon you won’t care” and “work hard and you’ll get all the freedom you desire”.

Then there was “Nothing you do will make you happy”.

The mood in the room immediately changed and everyone looked concerned. It was completely unexpected and I have been trying to work out why it was so memorable.

Firstly it was because it was unexpected. Had each prophesy been that heart breaking it would have lost its power because we would have been sitting with our stomach muscles clenched, prepared for the punch. Such is the ‘X Factor’ effect, where the drama is lost because they have created a play where the tragedy is relentless. Every character has a sob story and we can see it coming from a mile.

Its a simple, obvious point and one that is discussed constantly – I suppose the complexity is working out how many punches an audience can take in one play before they start to clench. People who make drama often wax lyrical about not allowing their audience to relax, which is important if you use ‘relax’ to mean ‘uninvolved’. Of course you want the audience to be as involved as possible, but you do want them relaxed so that you can punch them as hard as you possibly can (metaphorically of course).

With the prophesy we don’t need to know who wrote it in order to understand that it says something very intense about childhood – and speaks directly to Baz’s central theme for their play which is ‘to investigate the notion of self-identity in children: the roles they take on, the expectations they have and the choices they make.’. Crucially ‘nothing you do will make you happy’ is not about how this particular 10 year old feels about their life  (perhaps the 10 year old was excited about his or her future) it is an adult who has experienced the childhood who feels that any attempt for joy was futile. The message is that the helplessness we all feel as  children, was in this case, correct.

Fate is constantly explored in the Greek Myths – famously Achilles was allowed to choose everlasting fame – for most of the characters their fate was non-negotiable. Cassandra’s prophesies may have fallen on deaf ears, but the truth they contained proves that the characters’ future was essentially out of their hands. This is sad enough when we consider it with adult characters we are so familiar with,  but to see it in the children is devastating and will be fascinating to explore in the eventual play.

Just as “Nothing you do will make you happy” was a dramatic moment that was rooted in reality of feeling, so the script that the actors worked on that afternoon about Cassandra and Paris was rooted in the explorations that had taken place during the workshops. Because the exercises had been about being truthful to how the actors felt in the moment, the script reflected that. I noticed one of the actors smile in recognition when in the new script Paris kicked Cassandra under a table. Although she was playing Cassandra that afternoon, and therefore receiving the kick, it had been her in a previous workshop as Paris who had been motivated to land it.

I went to the Baz workshop with my head full of sport and it was something I was thinking about while I watched the actors rehearse. My belief that the best sport cannot ever compete dramatically with the best theatre had already been shattered this summer – similarly after watching the workshop I no longer hold that the best devised drama cannot contend with a well written play. Writers and theatre do not have the monopoly on being thought provoking, moving, memorable and exciting. I’m off to watch Ellie Simmonds and Oscar Pistorius race for their gold medals and I’m waiting in anticipation for Baz’s upcoming show. The play will explore the moments in Paris and Helen’s childhood when they receive prophesies – and like my new found appetite for sport I am hungry for the potential tension and questions this investigation will provide.

Anne – Baz Curator

Exciting News

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At BAZ, we’ve always explored the bond between theatre and sport and over the course of these last few weeks it has never felt more evident.

We are inspired by the training and discipline of athletes and their ability to react in the moment in their strive to perfection; something we try to emulate and instill in our team as we develop the work we’re passionate about.

We saw this quote on the weekend and we felt proud. Our own ‘anything is possible’ happened this weekend too, our hard work and grafting paid off, as we received an award from the Arts Council to secure our production of PROPHESY, and to further develop our Education work and our training.

We couldn’t be more excited and invigorated about what this means and what it allows us to achieve. Many thanks to all who have given their time, expertise and support to us over the years, we are incredibly grateful.

From Workshop to the page….

Baz took a few weeks off over Easter to give our actors a well-earned break after a term of exploratory workshops that helped shape our ideas for PROPHESY. As everyone took the opportunity to eat countless chocolate eggs and catch up with family over the long weekend, the Baz office attempted to digest everything we’d learnt from the workshops and structure our story.

We’re really hoping to continue the experimentation we began in Macbeth, but this (of course) is expressed very differently as we use devised text rather than that of the most famous wordsmith. Whereas before we attempted to define a new rehearsal technique, here we are actively steering away from a more standard approach to improvising. Instead of asking our actors to improvise a character in a scene, refine it and do it over again until we have a final product, with PROPHESY we will know the structure and the content of scenes which we’ll then break down and explore bit by bit – sometimes situations, sometimes characters, sometimes movement or more conceptual ideas – before taking it away and wrestling it back together into rough script structure which will be explored by the company as larger chunks. By the end, every scene will be a condensed patchwork of work from various different members of the company and sessions throughout the year.

This has meant documenting every workshop and the work that our actors made. Over Easter we spread this out over the floor and reminisced – the weekly workshop write-ups, the photos and scribbled notes, the video clips, flip chart family trees and the pages of lines and ideas that came out of the work we did. It seemed almost impossible to imagine wrestling it into a single structure that would engage and make sense.

So armed with this patchwork floor, we began to trim and focus, expand and develop….. all that was left was to agree on our method of storytelling and devour chocolate to make up for all those eggs we missed out on……

WRITING EPILOGUE FOR BAZ

Joan Stansbury, our poet-in-residence, recorded her responses to Macbeth in her fabulous 5-part Poem – Epilogue – which we published in the lead-up to Christmas.

Her unique and inventive response prompted up to ask how she went about creating her beautiful poems, a discipline that intrigues and fascinates us as theatre-makers…. Below is her thoughtful response.

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Baz asked me how I write poems. The seed can be an image (most often a metaphor), or a few words that sound interesting, or, best of all, a combination of both. How to find them? 

A QUICK SNAPSHOT

I make a brief note, ideally within twenty-four hours of an experience, of one or two striking sounds/sights/smells/tastes/tactile responses. For example, I immediately saw St Andrew Holborn crypt as being like rows of barrels or of rounded pregnant bellies. “Barrel” and “belly” also alliterate. Together they triggered the first five lines of the opening poem in the sequence.

(I also recorded the colours and shapes of bricks and stones, the dust, and the sharp taste and skin-prickle of air that indicated a freshwater spring close by. These fragments were eventually discarded; however, as they are still in my notebook, they may be useful one day.)

EMOTION RECOLLECTED IN TRANQUILLITY

Wordsworth needed tranquillity to recollect and portray emotion. I can’t write about grief until long after the event. Although I can examine good feelings after a shorter interval, I do still need a cooling off period. The critic’s emotional response was therefore the last poem to be written.

RESEARCH AND PLOTTING

The time between enjoying the play and writing the poems was spent reading and thinking. I learnt  fascinating facts about Holborn and the church, but these were not poetically very productive. I looked in archaeological papers to see whether my suspicions that some of the stones looked Roman could be true. I checked the record for winter-roosting wrens: I knew it was sixty-something, but not the precise figure (which luckily turned out to be a word good for rhyming).

I jotted down the themes of the play that had excited Baz as being relevant today: tyranny; good government; systems of justice; loyalties; spying. I noted their passion for teamwork; the sharing out of juicy bits among the actors, ignoring gender; their desire to train like athletes; their sense that the crypt was a perfect setting for the play.

SNOOZE

Then I set my snooze alarm and allowed my brain some undirected dream time.

ASSAULT

After a week I felt ready to write. As there was so much material, I decided that a bundle of poems in different voices could encompass more of it, so I aimed for five voices to mirror the acting team. 

I intended a tidy sonnet for the historian, but had to bust it because I couldn’t resist dropping in “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow”. The birds demanded the dipping flight of short regular lines. I remembered that in school reports PE teachers concentrate on tasks rather than personalities, rarely writing in full sentences. The flip fashion writer is there partly for light relief (for me and, I hope, for the listener or reader). The critic is so much under the influence of the play that he speaks in blank verse, but, as frequently happens in Shakespeare, begins and ends his scene in rhyme.  

REVISION

For several days I revised relentlessly, much of which was extensive pruning. (If I don’t have a deadline, I revise on and off for a year or two.)

DEADLINE

Curtain.

Sarah’s week….

So last week I escaped the Big Smoke and headed off into the country to work with a group of gap year students on Iphigenia at Aulis for six intense days.

What a week.

We’ve galloped our way through the text without pausing for breath. We’ve messed about with language, studied mythology, explored what it means to be ‘active’, played with movement and physical relationships, improvised music … the list goes on and on. We’ve ad-libed with saxophones, harmonicas, ‘penis buckets’ (don’t ask), ladders, music stands, whiteboards – raiding rooms for anything and everything we could get our hands on.

Of course it’s lovely for me to be playing with the same stories and characters that we are feeding into the Baz project Prophesy. But the biggest thrill of the week has been discovering that these students are the most healthily competitive bunch of people I have ever met. It’s a joy. Give them a game, an exercise, a scene, a line learning challenge, whatever. They listen quietly, nod sagely and then explode with energy and bravery, playing to win like I’ve never seen. And wow, they work fast.

Here’s to these students who are fast becoming an impressive set of theatre makers. The next generation is ready … steady ….

PROPHESY workshops in action

Workshops are now back in full swing, and already we’ve been amazed and awed at the bravery of our actors and what they’ve created. It has only gone to excite us even further about what is to come. Paul Biver came along to a recent physical workshop and helped document the experiments. We liked them so much, we thought you’d like a little sneak look inside our workshop room….

Coming up over the next few weeks? More physical work led by company member, Ian, and a session messing around and creating the music that might inhabit our worlds by our resident sound designer, Carl Prekopp…..

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All images by Paul Biver.

The Value of Art

 

This week Baz has twice been reminded about the Value of Knowledge within the arts.

 

On Saturday we spent an exhausting 4 hours sat around the table that was acting as the Baz office and scrawled over flip charts with marker pens as we were led through an energising and focused brainstorm by a fundraising professional. We have been lucky enough to have secured knowledge and advice from some incredibly talented and skilled professionals over the last couple of years whilst we have stared up adoringly and lapped up every word. Frankly, we’ve been shameless – bribing a fundraiser, a PR creative, a musician, a School Drama Head, a website designer, a programme designer, a social media expert and countless other talents with coffee and wine as in order to pick their brains and benefit from their generosity. And each time they agree and share their knowledge with us I almost pinch myself… Infact, no… I really do pinch myself. Because their skills and knowledge are so valuable. Not just in terms of our appreciation, but in a monetary value to us both that increases our worth, and a value that is placed on their time. These lovely people are trained and skilled in something that they trade with on a daily basis in their day jobs. It gives them a value as employees, and the more they’ve trained and the more experience they have, the more valuable they are. To then let us in and share that skill so freely catapults us past the hard graft they’ve undertaken to learn their trade straight to the rewards that we reap, and that’s a big ask. I wouldn’t walk into a hairdresser and ask for a free cut and blow-dry for nothing just because I was a bit cash-short that month.

 

There is a value in skill and there is a trade and a transaction required if we aren’t able to pay for them in a conventional way. This may be bottles of wine, or large shouted thank-yous, mentions and recommendations and constant promotion, free tickets, or the promise of payment properly next time – all sealed with eternal gratitude and the promise of a warm fuzzy feeling in return. We must ensure that this is not forgotten and that we honour it in return in order to build and nurture these relationships that as an industry we so often rely on.

 

But we must also remember that equally there is a value in our own artistic work that as a community we often forget and can all too easily find it being taken advantage of. Actors/musicians/writers/directors (and a whole host of other artists – delete as appropriate) often find themselves working for free and asked for large favours that no-one would consider asking of friends and colleagues in other disciplines and industries. As a company, Baz are determined that an honest day’s work should be rewarded by an honest day’s pay and a large part of what we do is an attempt to urge artists to remember the skills they possess and the value they hold – beautiful skills that have been developed over years of study and training and that should be celebrated and protected, not exploited. That’s not to say we shouldn’t always be looking to help and support each other, just that we should also ensure we are not taking, or being taken, advantage of.

 

We have recently been lucky enough to join forces with People at Play, a collective of multi-disciplinary companies that are working out of Pimlico Academy and attempting to establish a way of supporting each other, trading our valuable skills and paying back to the community who allow us to use their space for free. On Thursday we were reminded again about the value of artists and the need to share and appreciate each other’s skills as we all freely debated how this would be achieved and revelled in the opportunity to mould and influence such an important scheme. We may not all do it the same way; we may assign different values to our skills, and we all have different things we can trade in return, but we must always ensure that trade is completed, honoured, and respected if we wish to continue to use it.

 

And on that note, I’m off to thank that lovely fundraiser again….

PRODUCTION ANNOUNCEMENT – PROPHESY

 

 

What happens to you if you are told your future? What do you do with that knowledge? What happens if you are only a child when you find out?

 

BAZ Productions are delighted to announce PROPHESY, due for production in early 2013. Devised by the ensemble, this project will develop through improvisation. Taking characters from the classic Greek Myths in settings not unlike modern Britain, we will be exploring the notion of self-identity in children: the roles they take on, the expectations they have and the choices they make.

Set in two contrasting worlds of ‘Troy’ and ‘Sparta’, we will explore the moments in Paris and Helen’s childhood when they receive the prophesies that, when they grow up, bring about the complete destruction of their families and worlds.

BAZ will explore how that information affects them here and now and as a result how they relate to those around them. PROPHESY will continue to build on BAZ’s methods of working that were established in Macbeth and we cannot wait to show you the results…..

Follow the Leader…..

London Arts Orchestra did something rather wonderful recently. They opened up the dress rehearsal of a Mahler concert to the public. For free. Added to which they let us, the audience, sit in the orchestra among the musicians. I sat in the strings section. It was wonderful.

To sit immersed in the music rather than receiving at a distance it was extraordinary. Of course there were loses – sometimes things sounded quite odd because other parts of the music were overpowered by the instruments you were closest too. But what you gained through this unique experience far outweighed those loses: the music surrounded you, it engulfed you, it became a part of you. Or you became a part of it. I’m not sure which.

The biggest revelation for me, though, was sitting facing the conductor. I’d never been able to watch the conductor like this, close enough to see every expression on his face and hear every syllable or count that he uttered.

He was an exceptional leader. He conjured the musicians, beckoned them, guided them. He had humour, passion and humility. Every now and then he’d stop the music and work a section until it was right. A brave decision to make with an audience in the room, but one that earned him respect. He’d made it clear, they meant business and they weren’t going home until they were done. However his manner was gentle, approachable, even waving mid-bar to a little girl who was proudly sat among the horns.

Watching him at work was inspiring. Watching the room at work, guided by him, was incredible.

Neatly, recently I’d been pondering the question of leadership. What are the qualities one should cultivate? As someone moving into directing, it’s a big question for me. But actually, I realised, almost all of us will be asked to be leaders at some point or other in our lives. Whether as director, teacher, manager, team-leader, stag-do-organiser or parent. And without question all of us will be led. Bad leaders are all too common (we all loved David Brent because unfortunately we knew him), but thankfully good leaders are out there too. And then there are those leaders who raise the bar, those who allow individuals to grow and collectives to flourish.

Books are my first port of call when I want to learn something new. So I’ve been reading up on book about directing (In Contact with the Gods), books about management (look up Susan Vinnecombe) and books about teaching (pretty much anything by Ken Robinson). As we all know, though, the best way to learn is through doing. And when you can’t do, watch.

All I want to do now is watch more conductors at work. I guess I’m going to have to blag my way into more orchestras. Perhaps I’ll need to take up an instrument as cover …

Epilogue – Final Part

For our Christmas blog, we publish the fifth and final audience member that completes Epilogue, Joan Stansbury’s poem inspired by Macbeth. We wish you all a fabulous Christmas and much love for a prosperous New Year.

[In October – November 2011 Baz Productions put on Macbeth in the crypt of St Andrew Holborn with a cast of just five multi-tasking actors.]

 

EPILOGUE

 

After a performance of the Baz Macbeth five members of the audience gather up their props and reflect on the evening’s experience.

THE CRITIC

(Fiddling with the pen in his top pocket)

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I drank a glass of wine: my first mistake.

Was terrified I might not stay awake.

I know Macbeth by heart: a run of the mill

Production woozes like a sleeping pill.

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Needn’t have worried. They made their audience work.

As soon as I thought about an actor’s take

on a taxing role, he or she would dissolve

before my eyes and speak in another voice.

Who’s …? Is it still …? Yes of course.

Same character, same intensity of thought:

the same, but from a different angle of view.

Concentrate. Admire each effortless pass

of the role from head to head. You can’t nod off

for a single moment: you dare not miss a trick.

No – not trick exactly, but a turn.

This taking turns can at the start bemuse,

but then invigorates, keeps me alert.

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They turn us turn about for different scenes.

No flats, just painting in sound and pools of light,

a shift in mood among the shape-shifting

characters. We drift from vault to vault.

Macbeth – or is it his wife –  smiles and offers

me a chair. Now we’re at the flicks:

a flat soft-focus black and white England

projected on the wall. Back to Scotland

three dimensional in full warcry.

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Exhausted but wide awake I need a drink

as sedative to take me down from a high.

How to review? That I’ll have to think

through and round. No notes: I didn’t try.

Too busy listening, connecting, disconnecting.

In the round. A bit Brechtian? This red

faultlined patchwork of brick inset with Roman

and medieval stones and disconcerting

concrete lintels I feel quite at home in

in the same somewhat confused confusing way

that I feel at home in this new-old old-new play

that burns and bubbles in my busy head.

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When I get home will I recognize my wife?

And if, I wonder, if indeed I do,

which wife from which strand of our shared life

will it be, or will she be someone new?

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Odds bodikins, how am I going to write a review?