Posts Tagged ‘ audience ’

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 …

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Epilogue

As we reflect over Macbeth and pack up our wares, count the pennies, dismantle the lights, evaluate the show, dream up the next step and get some well-earned rest, our lovely Poet in Residence, Joan Stansbury, was analysing the results in a far more imaginative way.

Below is the first Poem in her series of 5 entitled Epilogue.  We’ll be releasing one twice a week in the run-up to Christmas – a snapshot of our time in the crypt and most importantly the people who stepped into our underground world for a few fleeting hours…….

[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 HISTORIAN

(pats pocket to check that white cotton gloves are safe)

We clamber down a steep and tumbling stair 

to a curvilinear crypt with bellying tunnels

of seventeenth-century brickwork, picturing there

another London cellar with powder barrels

pregnant with death for James, Banquo’s heir.

 

 That treachery betrayed and bomb aborted

became the exploding gossip of the day.

Arguments from the trial, widely reported,

 informed the architecture of this play.

Equivocation: as wicked as a lie? 

Conscience: a true guide in everything?

Can good men justly use deceit, or spy?

Is it ever right to kill an anointed king?

Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow

must we repeat the crimes of yesterday?

 

by Joan Stansbury

Raising the Roof

There’s something about doing a play outdoors.

  • Rain.
  • Bees.
  • Helicopters.

Also:

  • Sunshine.
  • Sunsets.
  • Magic.

I just did Twelfth Night in Ludlow Castle. Ludlow Castle is REALLY OLD. It was a major base during the Wars of the Roses, Edward IV sent the Prince of Wales and his brother (later the princes in the tower) to live there, and Prince Arthur and his wife Catherine of Aragon called it home for a bit. It has a crumbling mixture of Gothic arches and Norman ones, Tudor chimneys and sensitive1990s timber fixtures to stop you breaking your neck as you wander through its labyrinthine corridors and stairwells. It also features families of pigeons living in chimneys and recesses where floor supports used to be.  As someone in our cast suggested, these are pigeons that might be related to pigeons from when the Tudors were hanging out there. Pigeons with heritage.  Pigeons that can tell their grandchildren stuff.

The DSM’s box framed in a norman arch in the chapel

The thought of performing somewhere with this much history and fame behind it was intimidating at first, but, as with the crypt showings Baz did in April, it makes everyone up their game a bit. It felt like we were on location, in another time and place, where imagination can range further than the back row of the stalls.

We were outside, in the elements, with the bats and the birds and the bees. And the rain. We played mostly in dry weather, but had two particularly rainy nights. One was the dress run, which had to be abandoned before someone slipped over on the ‘black run’ as we lovingly called it (a particularly steep ramp from the stage), but the other wet performance carried on to the bitter end, with only a brief pause whilst the downpour got the worst of itself out of its system. When it rained for the dress run we were scared of our 1930s costumes getting ruined (the director set the play in civil war Spain) and so some of us donned yellow plastic ponchos. This was hilarious and miserable all at the same time. When we encountered rain for the second time, we were more hardy, more confident on our raked set despite the very real threat of aqua-planing, and so no one turned to the poncho for protection (onstage that is – the audience were very well prepared). Instead, a sense of mischief crept in, as the audience and the actors, both in the same amount of precipitation, formed a cohesive bond – and together we shared a massive in-joke.

It was impossible to ignore the rain as we had been sort of doing before it stopped play momentarily. There was a moment when I was looking at my colleague who was playing the Duke Orsino, his light grey suit getting darker as it became increasingly saturated during Act 2 scene 4, a long scene, and I wondered what would happen if I alluded to the fact that we were all entirely soaked. But I didn’t acknowledge it, and chose instead to pretend it was not raining and that it was all fine and keep calm and carry on. A cop out I reckon. “Play the space you are in!” echoed round my brain from our days at the Crypt…

After the break, in which we all got tea and cake and stood next to heaters and wondered how many of the audience 1) would get pneumonia 2) ask for a refund 3) still actually be there when we started again, we started to play a bit more. Andrew Aguecheek took off his straw boater and fanned himself as if it were a sunny day. Fabian, dressed smartly as a driver for Lady Olivia took his driving goggles from his cap and wore them to keep the rain out of his eyes, and after Viola had wished for Olivia that “the heavens rain odours” on her,  the two had a contest about who should sit on the soaking wet seat, Olivia daintily wiping the surface of it to try and convince Viola to sit and listen to her. Malvolio tried to read Maria’s letter as it disintegrated in his hand for the lines “soft, soft” – which became soft, VERY soft”, and for the final song aptly titled “Heigh Ho the wind and the Rain” Feste raised the audience’s spirits and managed to get us the warmest applause of the entire run.

 “When it rains it is good for my game. When it is sunny it is good for my game” Rafael Nada.

 It was so freeing to be outside. It was like being let out into the playground at lunchtime after being in school learning stuff all morning. It was relaxing, alive and fun. When Viola says she would hallow Olivia’s name to the reverberate hills, there were actually reverberate hills to hallow to. Also, doing a vocal warm-up from the top of a medieval look-out tower as you look out on Shropshire countryside was rather inspiring.

The lighting was special too, considering the designer had to factor in both the sun and the night. Even when it rained, the blue remembered hills faded into graduating greys and when it was a matinee the sun made the grass ping out super greens.

 Another rubbish sunset at Ludlow Castle.

Ludlow has beautiful sunsets. Every night. It got a bit boring. One night I tried to capture the view from the castle on my iphone, which did it no justice at all.

The sun set as the play reached Act 5, so we went from being in the same light as the audience, through twilight, to them being engulfed in night. It was magic. Theatre with the lid taken off.

Stand up if you’re terrified

The Porter Speech

One moment I had personally been dreading was the porter speech, which Sarah introduced to me with a stand-up comedy routine in mind. Sarah was up for being experimental and the brief was loose enough to be creative; however terrifying the words “stand” and “up” were to my ears. Perhaps our porter spoke in modern language, maybe it was a new speech concocted entirely from mine or Sarah’s experiences, or maybe we just used the original text, as written. The homework Sarah set me initially felt too much like fun to be work; which was to watch You Tube excerpts of Stewart Lee!

It felt dangerous, even sacrilegious at first, to be deconstructing the work of such a comic genius, but in the end it made me appreciate his skill even more. Sarah and I noted the devices used by great comics – the refrains, the timing, the ‘rule of three’, re-incorporation, exaggeration, absurdity, bathos, musicality…

Everyone has their own taste when it comes to comedy – but I was starting to notice what it was about my favourite comics that I found so appealing. They seemed so “right”. They knew they were right about what they were saying – it was the ultimate rhetoric – they could win the argument. It’s quite sexy. It makes them somehow omnipotent – if done right of course.

So over a cup of tea at my flat, with low expectations and high anxiety, I sat opposite Sarah as she coaxed some stories out of me, and told some of her own to reciprocate. And that was all it was. Telling stories. She asked me to re-tell some, perhaps with exaggerated character descriptions, or the invention of an extra character to make it “3”, to heighten reactions of the characters, and to use refrains, a la Stewart Lee. I took her advice and we told stories all afternoon. It was exhilarating.

With this newfound confidence gained from sitting in front of a trusted friend, fellow actor and business partner over tea and telling stories (why the hell was I so scared?!) I remembered a story in particular about a temping job on “the gates of hell”, or Barclays Bank as it was known at the time. With Sarah’s “golden rules of comedy” I bent the story in a ‘hilarious’ direction and prayed she would be amused by it. We were busy that week so I auditioned the routine at her over skype. And she laughed. So that was good.

When it came to performing it Sarah had talked about “units” of thought, almost like flash cards, and so I distilled the speech to some anchoring phrases or words to aid recall. However, as I practiced telling the story, flash cards seemed superfluous. After all, memory experts advise using stories as mnemonics to remember phone numbers or other such banal lists. A story, that you understand and have to an extent lived through, just sort of takes care of itself…

Which is what the stand up speech did really. I was blinded by the lights initially, which helped with the fear, but the aural reaction (er, laughter) was palpable, enjoyable, and made the audience seem very close and participatory indeed. The space helped – they were in a tunnel of darkness, I was in a tunnel of light opposite them, so I felt a very direct contact with them. It was like performing inside theatrical blinkers – no one was looking right or left, their attention was dead forward. I even began to look them in the eye once my eyes got used to the light. It was immensely freeing and I felt pretty invincible for about an hour afterwards.

I wonder how we’ll do it in October…

The problem with large numbers …

Already I don’t like the title of this. It’s not a problem. Why should it be a problem? Let’s try again.

Many characters. Few actors. How could we play?

It’s something we are tackling with Macbeth. And I got to wondering – how have other people approached this … challenge? Come on, let’s stand on the shoulders of giants – or at least get a good look at the view before shimmying down and doing something else.

So I racked my brains. And then asked other people to rack theirs.

The immediate answer that came to my mind was doubling. Lots of doubling. I’ve been in many a production that required me to ‘double’. In my experience it’s meant hours in the rehearsal room trying out various accents or postures, and then hours with design departments trying out different costumes and wigs. To ensure that the characters I am playing seem as different from each other as possible. This inevitably leads to quick-changes in the wing. Endless quick-changes. Endless.

Of course it need not involve all that donning and doffing of wigs. Just a change in … something. Intention. Physicality. You know. A change.

That’s fine. That’s one option, which can be stunning when done well. Many plays involve a little bit of doubling, a servant here with the best friend there. But some really do go hell for leather. ‘Stones in his Pockets’ is probably a famous example of this. Examples othes came up with were:

‘Diary of a Nobody – 4 actors performing 46 parts at The Royal & Derngate, Northampton. So convincing that a large man with a beard playing Mrs. Pooter made everyone feel for her when her son left home and the audience referred to the actor as “her”.’

‘The Tempest at the Globe, circa the early 2000s. A three man job – not three man because the Globe couldn’t afford a full company (my assumption, that is!), just because. I think it started with Mark Rylance performing the entire storm with the ship and everyone on it on his own, using a chess board. It was hilarious, fascinating and moving all at the same time.’

I saw it too, and think I remember (I’m sure I remember) at one point Mark Rylance standing with his head in a noose as one character, then taking it out and talking to the space in the noose as another. And I remember thinking that talking to thin air made total sense – because he wasn’t talking to thin air. He was talking to a man with his head in a noose.

But what else? What else is there?

Cutting characters. That’s another common one. Why do we need both Ross and Angus to tell Macbeth he’s going to be made Thane of Cawdor, just one will do. Why do we need all three messengers, hey, let’s just give first messenger a Blackberry… But where does that stop? Do we need all three witches in Macbeth, won’t just one do? Actually come to that, do we need both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth? Umm, hang on.

Last year I tripped down to the Scoop to see the Pantaloons’ Macbeth with a friend. Their Macbeth was performed with five actors – and much cutting characters, doubling actors and hilarity ensued. They created their witches out of stunningly effective puppets – who could appear, disappear, change their movement from something old and fragile to something inhuman, be fast, be slow, move in and around the audience, fly and were genuinely other-worldy – and these puppets, I think, could be picked up whichever actors were available in any given scene.

So creating characters the whole company can play. That’s another option. Something I’m very interested in at the moment, as it happens.

What else, though.

Something symbolic? I was in a production of Richard III last year and when it came to the final battle sequence we only had a few actors and little-to-no budget with which to play. So we pumped in sound that mixed house music with helicopters and sirens, and played it at the loudest level that was legal (believe me, official-looking people came in with their little boxes and measured the volume precisely). To it we created a movement sequence which repeated and speeded up, over and over again, building for several minutes to the point where the actors were barely able to continue. Then we cut the sound. And there was just us, standing and catching our breath. Battle over.

I guess that was symbolism, right? It was something. A representation of something. A representation of something happening to lots of people. Or something.

Hats, limps, twitches, accents, chess sets, puppets, dancing and more. Lots lots more. There will be hundreds ways people have solved the problem – sorry, tackled the question. In the words of one director I worked with, ‘It’s all makey-uppy’. So what does it matter if one person plays one hundred people, or one hundred people play one person? Baz is going to be tackling this question in October. And I have to say I’m excited.

What are we going to do? Umm … watch this space!

The Words of our Work-In-Progress Audience

For those that would have preferred a public post-show discussion, and for those that enjoyed the anonymity of feedback cards. For those that missed it and are nosy enough to want to know ‘what went down’, and for those who saw it and care enough to want to know the range of other’s opinions.

We collected exactly 60 feedback cards.

Firstly, for fun, we made a word cloud (the bigger a word, the more it showed up in the feedback).

Then we got more serious. Here we have grouped together the main themes that came up. There was other feedback not featured here – on everything from where to buy wine, how to sell our designer (not his designs but the man himself!), and personal messages to members of the team. We’ve avoided copying out near identical points. We have left out feedback strands about the structure of the night itself. That’s not to belittle any of that feedback, though. It’s simply logged somewhere else. Every opinion, compliment or criticism has been read, re-read and discussed. And how glad we are that you were all candid and honest!

So, without further ado, may I present to you:

The Words of our Work-in-Progress Audience

(I hasten to add the work was ‘work-in-progress’, not the audience).

Character swapping

(Six actors playing all the characters, all swapping in and out of each part)

Liked the recognition of actors v characters – would like to see this pushed further.

Will actors change performance during the performance in October? If so, why? I liked it in tonight’s showing but wonder what it will say and add?

Will the players be changing roles in the Autumn? I thought this worked actually, and showed how irresistible the emotions/motivations were that drove Macbeth to the act and other characters to their reactions.

What really appealed to me was the group’s capacity to convince me of an idea then drop it (literally) with an item of clothing – lovely poetry there.

Different actors for different character traits?

I liked the fluidity of the cast and of gender, for me it rather created the impression of a group of people being trapped underground and forced to act out a nightmare.

Switching of roles interesting, easy to follow and fresh. Was initially wary but fears about the execution entirely unfounded.

… it does, in my eyes mean that the ROLE of each character within a trajectory must be more interesting than the character itself. So I guess for autumn if that’s what you decide to do, look into that more … why Macbeth?

 

Gender

(Within the rules of swapping characters, all parts are open to all actors – regardless of age or gender)

I’m interested in what you’re doing with gender. There’s load more there though. Why is it that it’s so hard to swap gender in a role? Is that just with Shakespeare? Or everyone? Or is it because of difference in the writing of the genders? I find it so much harder to believe women when they play cross-gender (and men too!) DELVE into that because it gives me sleepless nights!! Is it tradition? Is that all it is?

I liked as well the reverse-gender casting in the two scenes I saw … with Lady M being more of an impish, trickster-like figure engaging the audience rather than another vampish femme fatale, it lent the stabbing of Duncan scene … almost the air of a Medieval morality play like Mankind or something.

Loved the disregard of gender. It’s brave and it does work – throws a lot into question.

 

Space / Lights

(Christopher Wren crypt, with numerous bays. Lighting handmade from tin cans, candles and torches. Some scenes took place in the dark or out of view of sections of the audience.)

The first space with the seats around the edge was really exciting visually. The entrances at either end draw the eye and help the audience engage. The space used for the closing scenes was less effective because the audience is concentrating on being able to see and differentiating the characters in the low light.

Bodies in the space were very structural which was aided by the beautiful quote raw lighting – I loved it! … Liked “hearing” the play when the actors were in the dark.

… on occasion it was hard to follow the action when scenes took place in multiple rooms.

What a site. The creepiness can be used, you pitched it really well. You managed to use the extremes of the space in a vital way. Wonderful appearances and disappearances, questions left looming in my mind.

I would be worried about the space outperforming the show at times. Case in point, porter scene so good, partly because it didn’t depend on the space.

You used the space and all its quirky bits to their full. The brickwork and its decay beautifully deployed. And genius lighting giving atmosphere to die for.

Since most of Macbeth takes place at night or in darkness (I think) you’ve really got the chance to do something really Stygian there, and the sense of depth from those vaults and corridors should really enhance things.

 

Porter

(Replacing the Porter speech with a stand-up storytelling routine)

I will remember the Porter – I want to see that show most of all.

… was a lighter form of entertainment after trying to understand Shakespeare.

Thought the porter sketch where we were all sharing the irritation at the ‘knocker’ interrupting things was great.

Like the mix of Shakes and modern (porter) – it’s the story that’s sacred not the text!!

 

Language

(‘Macbeth’ is written in two types of verse, plus prose)

I love the active play and speaking the text without painting the words shows that the meaning is enough to create a feeling of threat … it was still the cleanest and most present rendition of any of the scenes I’ve ever seen.

Obviously, this was a work in progress, but I think there needs to be a lot more work on the language … Try being even a little less respectful of it, if needs be. You can easily get bogged down in unnatural rhythms.

Sharp sense of wit from clever actors who made sense of the verse.

 

Sound

(Live sound created by actors on instruments, as opposed to formally structured ‘music’. DVD of rehearsal footage was shown as part of work-in-progress, which featured sections put to music)

Instruments, soundscape of space seems really rich.

… loved the soundscapes.

… in your video found it very moving when music and moments of movement were placed together. Perhaps an idea could be instead to explore bringing live music in to the live performance. Could add to the notion of the performance being about what you’re given and playing with that.

E. Amato’s Baz Blog

Practivist of the Week – YOU! Helping BAZ Productions!

Wow – I was invited to a sneak peak of what BAZ Productions is doing.  I was compelled to attend by the fact that they were doing it in a crypt!  Yup.  Underground crypt at St. Andrew’s Church.  Macbeth.  What could be spookier?  Yum.

The night was inspiring. The performers were thoroughly engaging and the use of the space was miraculous. BAZ has stripped away identity from character, put spontaneity into a 400 year old text, and removed apathetic passivity from theatre-going. If the theatre is to live beyond live streaming video, then this is clearly the right direction to pursue, and it is being pursued passionately, courageously, and elegantly by BAZ.

In the tradition of Shared Experience and Theatre du Complicite, BAZ is working toward a unified whole in its productions by creating a company of performers who work and grow together.  Catherine Bailey,  Sarah Bedi, and Emma Luffingham are leading BAZ in a direction of fully collaborative training – creating a team of performers as refined and excellent as a professional athletics team.  To do this, they must create time and space for training, rehearsal, discovery and mastery.

Surprise #1:  This takes money.
Surprise #2:  Theatre companies are not funded by beer sponsors and television ad revenue like professional athletic teams.
Say the BAZ team (yes they even quote together!):

After the roaring success of our work in progress showings, our next goal is bigger and brighter than ever – a three week run of Macbeth at the incredible crypt at St Andrew, Holborn (scheduled for October).

The space, with its strange corridor of underground rooms, is the perfect venue for our team of actors to pick up the story of Macbeth and wrestle with the telling of it.

We are already in training for the big event (as all our work is inspired by sporting matches, let’s say this is our championship final!) and will be lying in wait for that audience who seeks something alive and limitless. Expect murder, music, mystery – and things bursting out of the walls.

BAZ has already reached almost half their fundraising goal, but they still need to raise 19,000 GBP by September in order to
facilitate their 3-week run of Macbeth in the crypt.

YOU CAN HELP!
If you don’t like PayPal you can make cheques payable to: Baz Productions LLP and put them in the post:
Baz Productions LLP,
17 Ferris Road, London, SE22 9ND
LLP no: OC348492
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