HAUNTS: Site Visits

Saturday 8 & Sunday 9 April 2017 | Author: Jo Woolaston

There has been a weekend on my calendar which has been dancing and waving its hands in the air for some time now – simply titled ‘Site Visits,’ it suggests the need for a clipboard and a hard hat and does not really do justice to the two days of possibilities that lay ahead, days that would involve wandering around in beautiful and fascinating places, immersing oneself in thought and mood of a creative and inquisitive manner. You heard me right. Two days. In a row. And, for the moment at least, I am allowed to call this … ‘work!’

So, very happily wafting my farewell hanky, I abandoned my parental and domestic duties on the station platform and headed once again across the border to Nottingham, destination uncharted (well, it was for me) as Day One was set to introduce me to unfamiliar territories – locations new to me and chosen by the other writers for their own projects. I was excited to explore their ideas and learn more about their perceptions of what constitutes a good ‘Haunt’. And they did not disappoint.

We started in a pub – well who could be upset about that? And yet the Malt Cross  establishes itself very quickly as much more than that – a bar, a café, an art space, a venue, a community project – its present fulfils the legacy of its past as a beating heart of the city in its previous guise as a Victorian Music Hall, rich with character and history. It immediately opens up limitless routes on which to take a writing project, which both stimulates and scares me as a writer – there will be a deadline coming up at some point in this process, will I be able to uncover the true character, the central pulse of my own chosen location, in time? This is something I query in each of the subsequent sites I am introduced to – University Campus – would I write Students or Squirrels? The Hemlock Stone – Druids or Mountain Bikers? The writers of each do not appear to be phased however – quite the opposite – they exude a confidence, a passion, which leaves me in no doubt that all these locations are in safe hands.

We leave the dusty downhill slopes of the Bramcote Hills behind, my inner ten year old screeching past the Mountain Bikers on my trusty BMX (I refer of course to the imaginary BMX I begged my parents for, as opposed to the rusty racer I received which would have delivered me to the bottom in a broken heap. Mum, Dad – take note) and we head for the tram, another chosen ‘Haunts’ site, and a people-watcher’s paradise. It is a quiet ride, allowing time for reflection, and the collection of snippets and gossip which we conspire to share at the end of the day over a pint or two. (And yes, I am still referring to this as ‘work.’)

Day Two, and it is my turn to play host, at Bradgate Park in Leicestershire. At once I feel proud to welcome new people into a space so familiar to me I feel that I could walk around it with my eyes closed, despite it being over 800 acres of free-to- roam parkland. A small patch of ancient oak trees a short walk into the park is my destination of choice and knowing it so well, I am surprised to learn it actually has a name – Hell-Hole – dubbed thus due to the unusual characteristics of the trees; limbs gnarled and twisted, trunks split and stripped, and bark ravaged by time and exposure to the elements. I wonder, how will this new information change my initial thought processes, and once again my writer’s fear emerges – am I able to do this site justice? Will I get it ‘right?’

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Yet on this bright sunny day, the name Hell-Hole seems ill-placed. Today, this is a place of calm and serenity, it offers a means of respite, a chance to climb, and to play, and already I realise that one visit is not going to be nearly enough. I remember the words scrawled on a post-it note above my computer ‘Don’t get it right, get it written.’ It is time to swap the imaginary clipboard and hard hat for a real note–pad and thinking cap, and (sorry kids, bills, and household chores) I have found myself a new office, so I anticipate many more ‘working weekends’ to come, and plenty of future ‘Site Visits’ dancing around on that calendar.

HAUNTS Week 3: Exploring Second Person

Saturday 1 April 2017| Author: Lucy Colgan

The ‘Haunts’ project, so far, has been a wonderful experience; the opportunity to work with New Perspectives Theatre Company, meet East Midlands writers and work with Will Drew as well as dedicate some time to writing has inspired new thoughts and ideas. Saturday’s session focused on the second person narrative….

…You were therefore excited about the writing session.

You drove there. You got up early enough so you could eat breakfast Lorrie_Moore_Collected_Stories_224and pack your bag.
Lunch. Notebook. Assortment of pens. You love stationary and a ‘Things to do’ list. You had been set some homework: to look at two examples of second person narratives before Saturday. The first was a short story by Lorrie Moore called How To Be An Other Woman. The second was a piece of interactive fiction called Photopia by Adam Cadre.

When Saturday arrived, you enjoyed the drive through Nottingham. The sun was shining. You counted three early morning joggers, a family of four and two dog walkers. You listened to the radio for a while before calling mum. She wasn’t in.

You arrived in good time, just before 11am. “Anyone fancy a brew or a cup of coffee?” Theresa asked, in her sing-song manner. Everyone else started to arrive and, once we had settled, Will asked us to feedback regarding the homework. You had forgotten to do it. You wrote a note to self: you’re a fool!

You enjoyed listening to the group talking about how Lorrie Moore explored the theme of identity through the eyes of a mistress. You chuckled at the way the Jo and Susie explained their frustrations with Photopia. You kept notes, as all good writers do, and referred back to them when your boyfriend asked about the session. You wrote down the title of a book, If On A Winter’s Night A Traveller by Italo Calvino, and you vowed to purchase it on Amazon when you got home that evening.

You spelt words incorrectly, scribbled things out… You considered why anyone would be so driven to write. You remembered lyrics of songs you had started and never finished and doubted whether you were a writer at all. Until it happened. The group were invited to write something. You panicked and found this challenge difficult but, on reflection, realised that writing in the second person offered options and fresh perspectives.

You wrote about the ghost of celebrity. You were nervous about reading it out loud to the group but appreciated that it was all part of the creative process. You listened to the groups contributions too; you admired Hugh’s brutal honesty and humour, Jo’s ability to capture an atmosphere through use of language and Susie’s clear understanding of character and intention. Leanne’s exploration of ‘the sad clown’ impressed and inspired the group and you felt more alive and enthused on the drive home than you did on the drive in that morning. Dad used to call it ‘the fire in the belly’ and it was firing on all cylinders.

Today was all about you.

HAUNTS: Week 2

Writer Susie Hennessy muses on week 2 of our HAUNTS project. In this session the writers retraced audio walks which had been made from a route created in the very first session.

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The general area of the initial walks

Saturday 25th March, 2017  |  Author: Susie Hennessy

Fresh from our first week’s creative endeavours (and with many tales of ingenious solutions to sound engineering incompetence to share), the Haunts team arrived at New Perspectives base camp this morning, armed with a newly-forged collection of Nottingham-based audio walks, and keen to discover the extent to which these fruits of our labours would function interactively. Since exploring the Nottingham cityscape last Saturday (quite in spite of the inclement weather), my fellow writers and I have been busy designing and recording these pieces, with the intention of documenting our perceptions of three separate routes through the bustling town centre, whilst simultaneously guiding our listeners in such a way that they might retrace our footsteps. The proof of the pudding is, of course, in the eating, and so it was necessary for us to return to the scene of last week’s crime (?) this afternoon, so that we could all ‘plug in’ to each other’s works, in turn, and test our narrative and navigational skills, as well as our nerves.

Nottingham Contemporary Museum, NottinghamThere is something both exhilarating and terrifying about sharing a fledgling written work with others, and so, after a short tram ride (magnificent interlude for this humble Lincolnite) from NP to Nottingham Contemporary (the starting point for each of our walks), we assembled, loaded up the relevant tracks on our respective electronic devices, and donned earphones, all with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. I noticed, before we even set out on the first walk, that I felt a real sense of responsibility, not only as a writer who would, essentially, instruct my ‘audience’ through an incredibly busy city (today’s weather bringing with it a far greater flurry of animation and merriment than we saw last week), but also as a listener, keen to follow the correct path, and to avoid making a wrong turn. Added to this, I was somewhat apprehensive about the attention that a lost soul, wandering about in headphoned isolation, disconnected from the outside world, might attract in an urban environment, where folk going about their business, understandably, take none-too- kindly to the distracted and the disorientated stumbling blindly into their paths. As we embarked on the first walk, however, my fears were quickly quelled, and I actually found a real sense of unity (as well as of, paradoxically, solitude) in the knowledge that others were taking this quite remarkable journey with me. As we progressed through this afternoon’s sequence of experiences, as a group, we were all keenly aware that we had been permitted the luxury of viewing the landscape through the eyes of others, and found it fascinating to consider the ways in which this particular medium can guide collective vision, regardless of the fact that it is, in many ways, subject to the vagaries of a completely spontaneous environment (which we found often adds something quite wonderful, and unexpected, to the pre-recorded, set text).

Whilst I know that comparison of self to others is a deadly trap to be avoided at all costs, I must admit that I found myself to be in awe of the rich characterisation that defined the first two pieces we listened to this afternoon (I drew the short straw and found myself last on the playlist!), and of the very precise and evocative stories that both communicated to their audiences. As we set the wheels of my walk in motion, I realised that my narrative could have been less ‘tour guide-esque’, and more playful in places, although I was heartened, later on, to hear that the philosophical reflections I included in the script had served to shape its character. On a practical note, I think we all found, as the works went from page to stage, that there were moments where our ‘instructions’ to the listener might have been a little clearer, and so we all reaped some very tangible benefits from our maiden voyage together. There can be no doubt that we all approached this task completely differently, and that we each have our own unique concerns and insights that we will be able to draw upon, not only in our individual creative work, but also in our collaboration with one another, which, I might add, felt organic and fruitful at the end of today’s session, as we discussed each of our pieces in turn. As an aspiring writer and actor who has recently emerged from a detour of several years in academia, I am trying to shake off my objective, ‘teacherly’ voice (the voice that I recognised only too clearly in my audio walk today), and find a literary voice that is more authentically mine; as this project finds me, happily, surrounded by writers who are skilled in the arts of writing poetry, drama, and fiction, it is already becoming clear that Haunts has presented me with an invaluable opportunity to develop my own writing style, whilst learning from, and with, likeminded others.

Interview with Michael Pinchbeck – EP’s “A Fortunate Man” Project

Theatre maker Michael Pinchbeck  talks about his involvement with the 2017 Emerging Perspectives’ artist development project inspired by John Berger’s masterpiece A Fortunate Man

1. John Berger’s 1967 book, A Fortunate Man is often described as a masterpiece of social observation. How did this project come about?

New Perspectives’ Artistic Director, Jack McNamara thought there might be a creative response we could make to the book to mark its 50th anniversary in 2017. I read the book twice cover to cover and thought it was a really beautiful piece of writing with evocative photos that give a vivid sense of time, place and one man’s life. It speaks of the way a doctor works, but back when the relationship between a doctor and their patients was very different to today. There’s a kind of romanticism about it, between the doctor and his work, the author and his subject. Since John Berger died in January, I think that romanticism has grown slightly and it feels timely and important to revisit the book and see how we can interpret it. At the same time, there is a lot of topical debate about the state of the NHS so we want to mark the 50th anniversary of the book and look at how things have changed since it was written.

2. John Berger’s work has influenced an illustrious line of theatre-makers. When did you first become aware of his work?

I know he worked closely with Complicite and also wrote his own plays. I actually read his book Ways of Seeing when I was doing an MA at NTU. I then cited his work quite a lot for my recent PhD at Loughborough University. He says something that is really important to artists working on a project: ‘to understand a landscape we have to situate ourselves in it’. I think about this when I make a show. You have to try and understand the world you are writing about, through research, through visiting places, through talking to people, and that is what we will do for this project.

3. This project sees you pair up with your frequent collaborator, photographer Julian Hughes. What do you hope to explore together through this project?

Because the book was a collaboration between John Berger and a photographer, Jean Mohr, I wanted the core of this project to be a collaboration with a photographer too. I have worked with Julian for over 10 years now on performance projects and he brings a brilliant visual awareness to the work and documents it beautifully. I am hoping he is going to be able to work with the selected visual artists and share with them how best to capture life in doctors’ surgeries, sensitively and discreetly, while also revealing a little more about the beauty of the everyday. I will work with the writers and theatre makers and then we will bring our work together.

4. The project is part of New Perspectives’ engagement programme, placing you as an established artist with emerging artists from the East Midlands region. What skills are you looking for in these creatives?

An ability to think creatively and find interesting solutions to challenging situations. I enjoy working with people who think on their feet, where the doing is the thinking. I don’t like talking too much about the work, I just like getting on and doing it. I hope we can find a group of artists who are all on the same wavelength and who can bring their complementary skills to the process. It is going to be a bit like a jigsaw.

5. These emerging artists will be working with you over a four-month period. What can they expect from the project?

They can expect to become a cross between artists and detectives, as we go out on a kind of field trip to visit different surgeries in different communities, like the one John Berger writes about in the book. His doctor, John Sassall, would visit people’s houses and know different generations of the same family and we want to see what doctors now are like. In the book, John Sassall says that he sometimes wonders how much he is the last of the old traditional country doctors and how much he is a doctor of the future. He asks if you can be both and I suppose we are exploring what this idea of a doctor of the future might look like. I want us all to bring a different lens to the process, as writer, photographer or artist. And I want us to be able to tell the story of John Berger’s book and the doctor that inspired it. Tragically, the doctor in the book took his own life, and I think this might be our starting point.

6. Lastly, what advice would you give to creatives who are thinking of applying to this project?

Make the work you want to make. Be the artist you want to be. Be yourself.

 

The A Fortunate Man project will run from April – July 2017. Keep a look our for project updates on  www.newperspectives.co.uk 

 

EP’16: Cuckoos and Madmen

12933116_10154128376150746_8314256211463293566_nThis year, EP Company’s production, written by Cathy Grindrod and further devised by the company, looks at themes of teen pregnancy and motherhood, exploring the motif of the cuckoo’s nest. EP members Lytisha and Tony did some site visits to old Mother and Baby homes in Nottinghamshire, and the village of Gotham.

On 10th April Tony and I set out to look at the location of some of the former Mother and Baby homes in and around Nottingham. They have all changed use now, and the majority had been knocked down and rebuilt. One of the remaining buildings, The Croft, was covered in scaffold as it is under redevelopment. This was the one on Mapperley Road. Co-incidentally I knew someone that had recently lived there in its latest incarnation as rented flats. She shared some of the images of the inside of her flat to give us an idea of what the spaces were like.

Tony discovered this link about The Croft, via a friend who studies local history. We also drove out to Gotham to follow up the Cuckoo theme and investigate the local myths. There is a pub called The Cuckoo in the village and the sign illustrates the myth we were looking for. Speaking with locals, we discovered more details.

944007_10153421444032595_1910866062557549978_nWe learnt about The Mad Men of Gotham, known locally as The Wise Men of Gotham. There is a tale of the locals discussing the arrival of the cuckoo denoting the arrival of spring. Hoping to capture the benefits of the abundance of spring, the Mad Men of Gotham had the idea of trapping the bird in Gotham, so the crops would remain plentiful.To this end they built a wall around the tree that the cuckoo lived in. Unsurprisingly the cuckoo simply flew over the top and continued its’ annual migration to southern Africa. The response of the Mad Men of Gotham? Next year, we’ll build it higher! That’s the tale of the Mad Men of Gotham. However, the alternative version shows how this very same action proved the wisdom of these very same fellows. At this time it was believed madness was contagious. SO, to deter the King’s Men from calling at the village to collect taxes, the locals spread rumours that madness was rife, and illustrated it with tales such as this. The King’s men never came and the village escaped paying their taxes. The Wise Men of Gotham.

12998484_10153421378687595_5090871040234524054_nTo learn more about EP Company, visit our website.

 

Introduction to Directing – with Unanima

Each year New Perspectives offers tailored mentoring to an East Midlands theatre company – this year we are working with Unanima Theatre. They are an inclusive Community Interest Company based in Mansfield working with people with and without a learning disability and/or Autism Spectrum Disorder. New Perspectives have been supported by the Regional Theatre Young Directors Scheme to run a five-week ‘Introduction to Directing’ course led by their Artistic Director Jack McNamara with Unanima’s participants. Over the next five weeks he will keep a short blog on their work together. 


Love. Life. No Sat Nav
My first encounter with Unanima’s work was seeing their production of Love. Life. No Sat Nav; an impressive mixed media show built out of the participants own experiences of disability. During one scene a young performer, who had remained noticeably silent throughout the show, started communicating with the audience through words written on cards. Through this simple device she was suddenly able to talk to us, giving a strong sense of the personality that lay behind her silent demeanor. I was reminded of how actors fundamentally need clarity from a director, and how many of them might relish being directed through a selection of carefully chosen words on cards. I became keen to explore how this group might be able to harness their individual modes of communication in a directing context.

As a result I was pleased to get a grant from the Regional Theatre Young Director Scheme to run a  five week ‘Intro to Directing’ course with ten of Unanima’s participants. The scheme is the one I trained on some years ago, and it has now been expanded to include entry-level programmes for directors less represented in the wider industry. While there is a lot of conversation and activity at the moment surrounding the creative case for diversity, what is specifically exciting about this opportunity is its focus on leadership. This is not simply about making people feel included or adding a sprinkle of diversity to mono-cultural institutions, but about investing in future decision makers, be that in a rehearsal room or leading an organisation. It’s exciting to think that, if enough people support and embrace it, the scheme could genuinely change what theatre directing in the future looks like.

Session 1: Scenes

IMG_0019 Session 1 We started with  a basic question: What, as directors, are we working with? A cluster of words came together: actions, words, actors, characters, changes, music, light, story etc. We put them on the floor as a reminder of what our business is and ultimately what scenes are made of. We then played a few games that each said something about the nature of scenes. The first involved standing in a circle with each person taking turns to walk to the opposite side. As they crossed the centre something discernible had to ‘happen.’  The event or moment of change could be as minimal as they liked, as long as we could somehow read it. While some could not resist the urge to break into a dance when they crossed the centre others decided on smaller gestures that left all of us debating our various readings of them. It opened up a conversation about physical language; is it easier or harder to express something physically and how do we talk to each other about achieving physical clarity? I like this game as a small version of what most narrative scenes are: a journey from A to B interrupted by a change (or a dance).

The next game was the usual crowd-pleaser ‘Bomb and Shield’, in which you secretly select someone as your ‘bomb’ to keep away from and another as your ‘shield’ to keep between you. This created a bit of noise against the more studied earlier game, but it was also a crude demonstration of the balance of relationships that can make up a scene. We then did an Augusto Boal exercise in which we arranged chairs in the space in order of the least to the most important. The participants then entered one by one and attempted to position themselves as the most prominent figure in the space. While the first few adopted high status positions, the others attempted to undermine them with increasingly disinterested and low status poses. The last person entered the space and simply stood in front of the others with her back to the audience, instantly becoming the most prominent.

This led us to thinking about stage composition. On a large screen we projected the same scene from Hamlet over four different contemporary productions and discussed how the elements were managed differently by each director. The participants each came into their own, relishing the complexity of the tableaus and the differing choices across them. We analysed eyelines and body language, we talked about who was in the most and least prominent position, we discussed how individuals were lit and dressed. We talked about the feeling we get from a scene, and the society reflected in a staging. We then discussed the more subliminal features of a scene, the design decisions that brought less logical ideas to the surface; how shiny walls were being used to cast ghost-like reflections or how soil on the floor brought death and burial into our thoughts. Some of the participants became passionate about how ‘wrong’ certain stagings were. “That is not my Hamlet!” someone called out at an image of a French production. “What is your Hamlet?” I asked her. She launched into a passionate tirade about the anger of the characters, the ghostly atmosphere, the pain of having parents who disappoint you. Hers was a Hamlet I definitely wanted to see.

I encouraged the participants to make their own short scenes, drawing from their background as devisers. The content of the scenes, prepared quickly with little thought, were less important than their staging. Group by group they presented their scenes and the remaining participants gave notes to each one; our aim was to gain greater narrative clarity, rather than embellish what was there. Which key moment of change do we have to mark to make this story clearer? What happens if we alter the characters formation or whether they are still or moving? What object or environment can we add to the scene to open it up? Soon these fragments began to take shape into focused mini-scenes, each participant making clear contributions to improve what was in front of them. It was a safe environment where each voice mattered and none of the suggestions offered were taken personally.IMG_0020 Session 1

Given the company’s devising background, I had initially feared that the processes of directing might be too low energy for group members over a sustained period. Yet it seemed the more focused and studied the exercises the more active their contributions became. There was a real appreciation for having the space and time to look, think and talk as a group, and a basic joy in being able to constructively influence what is in front of you and make stories clearer and more engaging. It struck me that directing simply calls for a sharper focus on the imaginative and communication skills that we all use daily. There is no foreign language being learnt here, just a bit of room to put our heads together and explore what’s possible.

Next week: Working with actors

Learning the Ropes with New Perspectives

This week, we have been joined by Lauren, who was with us for some work experience in the world of theatre. As this has been the week of the EP Company tour of This Place, she has done a spectacular job of helping out at each venue and during rehearsals, and learned a lot along the way! We asked her to write a blog about her experiences:

My name is Lauren, and this week I have been doing my work experience at New Perspectives. It has been an amazing week and I have learnt a lot about the theatre industry that will help me in the future.

Day One was spent at the office in Basford, where I was introduced to all the staff. I had the opportunity to watch the final technical rehearsal for this year’s Emerging Perspectives Company’s production of This Place. The show contained three original short plays, written and performed by emerging East Midlands talent. I found it really interesting to observe the rehearsal, and witness the technical aspect of putting together a production, and the decisions that have to be made.

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On Tuesday, I travelled with the company to the Bonington Theatre in Arnold. I helped to dress the set with Theresa, the Director, and was taught how to rig the stage lights by Alisia, one of the actors in This Place. It was fascinating to see the amount of work that went into setting up the stage and all of the equipment. As part of Emerging Perspectives, the actors were being taught about the technical side of theatre by Mandy, the Production Manager, so I learnt a lot about the whole process. I’ve always been interested in what happens backstage before the shows, and this gave me an insight into what working in theatre is really like.

             100_1747Bonington                100_1765Bonington (2)

Wednesday took the company to The Old Library in Mansfield where, once again, I helped to set up the rails and props for the performance. Darrell, the Stage Manager, taught me a lot about the stage lights. I learnt about the three different types of lights (profile, Fresnel and par can) and how to focus them by altering the angle and direction, soft focus and hard focus, and then using the shutters (on a profile light) or by opening and closing the box (on a Fresnel light). However, on profile lights, you have to use the opposite shutter to whatever direction you want the lights adjusted. It was slightly tricky at first, mainly because I thought I was going to fall off the ladder, but once I knew what I was doing, I found it quite easy. In addition, I watched the full performance, which I thought was brilliant and thoroughly enjoyed! I liked how all the props were hanging from rails onstage, and I thought the use of space was really creative. The acting was also amazing. Seeing the entire process of arriving, setting up, technical checks and then the actual performance was a completely new experience for me, as normally when I go to the theatre, I never think about what has happened before the show starts.

                100_1784Mansfield            100_1786Mansfield

We went to St Peter’s Church in Thurgarton on Thursday, which provided the company with several challenges. The stage space inside the church was very small, so the set and lights had to be stripped back. The moving platform remained in the van, along with one of the rails and several stage lights. Theresa, Hope and the actors had to run through every scene change and make adjustments to the set and their entrances and exits, so that nobody clashed in the small stage area. I took part in the actor’s warm-up, which was very funny and bizarre, although nobody else batted an eyelid. Ryan’s warm-up was especially “interesting”. The church itself and surrounding landscape were beautiful, and provided a really nice atmosphere for the performance.

This was my favourite performance, as I have never witnessed a show in such a unique setting before. Watching the cast and crew adapt to such a space was also really interesting, and gave me an insight into the challenges involved with touring theatre. For instance, an unexpected performer made several surprise appearances in the form of the neighbour’s cat, who had managed to sneak into the building, and made several comical attempts to take centre stage. The actors continued despite the distraction, and showed no visible reaction to the incident, which I would have found very difficult.

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Overall, I have had a really fun, exciting experience. I’ve always been a huge fan of the theatre, and this experience has definitely made me want to pursue my passion in college and perhaps as a career. I have learnt so much and I feel like I’ve gained an understanding into a world I previously knew nothing about. All of the people I met were very lovely and welcoming, and I am very thankful to them for taking time out from their jobs to teach me about theatre. I’ve really enjoyed meeting everyone.

Thank you New Perspectives for the best work experience ever!

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Lauren Aitken, Year 10, Kirk Hallam Community Academy