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.

 

EP Session 3 – Hope Ward-Brown

The first element of New Perspectives’ ‘Emerging Perspectives’ company that excited me was the opportunity to draw on the experience of industry professionals and other emerging artists to challenge and further my own learning. Our last EP session exactly fulfilled this.script work

We began with a session with Jack McNamara, Artistic Director of New Perspectives. Despite this being the third EP Company session, being thrown into exercises and workshops has meant we know very little about each others backgrounds, only having time to ask “so what do you actually do?” gabbled between cups of tea and Tupperware lunches. Our session with Jack began with finding out about each other in the company; 6 performers, a producer, a musician and myself labelled ‘director’ (although that label must be applied very loosely at such an early stage in my own journey). We sound as if we’re about to board the ark. Jack also spoke to us about about a method he had learned early in his directing career from Katie Mitchell, and the 7 steps to take when approaching a scene. These 7 steps help to ground the piece in place, circumstance, change and characters before a company begins working more deeply in the text. Jack then spoke about the journey that New Perspectives has taken; emerging (no pun intended) from humble beginnings as a powerfully political and controversial theatre in education company in 1972, back in a generation when theatre in education had a political outcry, and spoke more of humanity than road safety. In recent times, as Jack took the helm of the company, he steered New Perspectives to produce “exciting challenging and engaging” work. And that’s what they were doing, literally under our feet.

Whilst we had been discussing the whistle-stop tour of New Perspectives over the last few decades, their latest production of Unforgettable by Tim Elgood was in rehearsal downstairs. Unforgettable tells the story of a brother and sister over their lifetimes, as they battle with the demands of caring for an ageing parent with dementia. We all piled into the rehearsal room to watch a working rehearsal with actors Lennox Greaves, Anna Lindup, Hayley Doherty and Adam Donaldson, directed by Theresa

Director Theresa Keogh works with Lennox Greaves and Anna Lindup in the rehearsal room.

Director Theresa Keogh works with Lennox Greaves and Anna Lindup in the rehearsal room.

Keogh. Aside from a handful of comments and questions from Theresa and the company, you could hardly tell they were mid-rehearsal. It was evident to us that the cast had clear foundations in character and circumstance to enable ownership of the text. This is all aided by Tim Elgood’s wonderfully fluid and conversational dialogue. As an aspiring director, I’m adapting and learning how to watch theatre with an eye of criticism and creativity. With this in mind, I considered how this could be a challenging piece in terms of structure within the scenes, being very dialogue-heavy and within the same setting. But Lennox and Anna moved effortlessly around the stage with natural ease and pace. I’m excited to see the finished production at Derby Guildhall and see its progression in our week of absence. After the open rehearsal we had a Q&A with writer Tim Elgood. It became evident that the ease of language I spoke of was a result of Tim basing Unforgettable on his own experience caring for his mother-in-law. He spoke about not wanting to make it an issue-based piece of theatre, despite its inherent topic being a highly topical issue. Rather, he wanted the piece to be fundamentally about the relationships between the siblings and the effects the ‘issue’ had upon them. This reminded me of the time we’d spent with Jack earlier in the day, discussing New Perspectives’ roots in theatre in education. I considered whether theatre is always issue-based, by its very nature? And is it purely the way in which we tell the story that differentiates the style? We finished the day taking an extract of Unforgettable and working out how we would approach the scene. I was astounded as to how quickly the piecHopee leapt off the page; thus is the strength of the text. Even on first reading the text feels human. We made quick decisions using the system that Jack had explained to us earlier, to put it into practice. The more action choices and decisions made by myself alongside the actors, the more strength and power the piece had. Making choices made the scene easier to read from the eyes of the audience. I look forward to being the eager-eyed audience when the plays goes into production.

To keep up to date with the Emerging Company you can follow me on Twitter @hopewardbrown.

Hope Ward-Brown

The Snowball Effect – Week 2 of EP Company

Week Two of our Emerging Perspectives journey, and where the 1st session set the bar, packed with inspirational wonder, the 2nd refused to fall short of this standard.

We started our day with an array of activities, making sure we were stimulated both intellectually and physically (boy, were some parts physical!).

Question:

If a stage is empty, is anything happening in that scene?

If a stage is empty and you add a chair, what is that chair saying?

If a stage is empty and numerous chairs are added, all in different positions, angles, and groupings, what is happening in that scene?

Answer…Everything!

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In what some may assume to be a very simple task, placing chairs one by one in to the space, in no particular order, we realised that a story can be told even through inanimate objects. Similarly, we questioned whether power, or the lack of, can be displayed without movement or sound, simply by where or how someone is standing on stage. For me these activities were very interesting; having previously done work which involved the use of silence and stillness, I have come to love these ‘techniques’ and feel that in some cases these moments can be the most powerful. Like most actors, I have always been taught that for as long as you are on stage, you are in character. Whether you are centre stage, reciting a monologue or sitting on a sofa, reading the TV guide whilst someone else is reciting a monologue, you are in character. Despite being the person with no lines sitting on a sofa and reading the TV guide you could still capture the audience, by being that character. As well as a new appreciation of the staging of a scene, this fundamental rule of acting was echoed for me during these activities.

For someone who has a near addiction to all the wrong things to eat and who has forsaken the gym on more than one occasion due to impatience and frustration, it came as no surprise that I worked up a bit of a sweat during our more physical activities. One in particular stood out for me, rivalling one of my all-time favourites. The only equipment: a handful of creative souls, each armed with a two pence coin… The aim of the game was simple, keep your 2p on the top of your hand – do not allow anyone else to do the same! Slowly but surely, our numbers diminished until only two combatants remained. One of my fellow Emerging Perspectives compared this stand off to fencing and although I have never had the good fortune to try it, drawing from only Hollywood-esque images, I can see the resemblance. Again, this was a simple activity that could be considered as just a ‘warm up’, something to get everyone moving. Nevertheless, I can’t help but see something more in this: yes I was moving, yes I was indeed very warm and yes I may have felt a tightness of chest afterwards but regardless of all this, to watch this display, in its own way, is performance. The movement itself was a type of physical theatre or dance. The unified effect achieved by all members of the group working together, a version of ensemble. The almost rehearsed interaction between the final two, in close quarters, back and forth, the attack, the defence, the riposte (fencing terminology, thank you Google). How do I define this movement? It is the epic fight scene, the moment the hero/heroine seems to be against unbeatable odds, the point where she is about to realise she loves him, the moment just before they win the championship, the peak of tension, still, unmistakably performative.

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The second half of our day brought to the forefront of our minds a crucial part of our time together (cue shocking sound effect): the scripts. Admittedly this filled me with a slight sense of dread, not because I was worried about the scripts or what the stories were going to be, nor the quality of them, but because I am very poor at reading something for the first time, especially in a group! Alas, onwards, we read the first, discussed slightly, read the second, more light discussion, then the third and final piece. Given I had no preconceptions of what they would turn out to be, or whether I would even enjoy them, I found myself enjoying all of the stories immensely, but especially certain aspects of each one, each for a different reason.

The first I enjoyed very much, feeling a great sense of connection to it. Certain lines within it I could hear being said by people in my own life, past and present, as if sitting amongst us, leaving me unable to avoid slightly smirking to myself.

The second I couldn’t help but enjoy, due to my sheer excitement of seeing this production off the page, plus a marvellous and rather ‘foxy’ reading by one of my comrades! The imagery this piece creates is so rich; the performer inside of me was salivating.

The third gave me so many images, colours, tastes. Images of rows of houses I had once seen, but had long since forgotten. Images of tea time at my Grandmother’s house, a place I loved visiting as a child, looking forward to this time of day, cold cuts, cheese, homemade scones, with a pot of fresh loose leaf tea.

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Safe to say I am growing increasingly excited about what each session will bring: the anticipation of the rollercoaster to come. Much like the snowball effect, I feel we will progress, gaining momentum, tackling any obstacle with ease, reaching the end of this journey, fully Emerged.

Kyle Futers

‘I am here. This is me, and I am fine.’ Masterclass with Alan Lyddiard

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‘I am here. This is me, and I am fine.’ That phrase is so simple to say, but it can be very hard to truly accept. At the age of 22 I’ve had my fair share of self-doubt, both about general day-to-day things and the rocky career path that is acting: I dance with the grace of a new-born giraffe, I’m terrible at money management, and I do daily exercises to suppress a lisp that could very well stand in the way of me getting work. Despite all this, however, it is my love for theatre that keeps me battling on and searching for ways to improve my skills and my knowledge.

It was only through a stroke of luck that I stumbled across the opportunity to apply for the Emerging Perspectives Company, but I couldn’t be more pleased that I did. After just one session it’s clear that it’s going to be a lot of fun working with the group – all of us like-minded theatre lovers with the drive to get the most out of this experience that we possibly can (and to put the most in to it).

What a first session it was, too! We were introduced to Alan Lyddiard – ensemble director and industry veteran. Having worked with intimate ensemble groups, huge, 500-man, city-wide community arts initiatives, and Lev Dodin of the Saint Petersburg Maly Drama Theatre, I have to say it was an intimidating experience entering the rehearsal room. I needn’t have worried, though; right away, even before sharing names, Alan familiarised us with his core philosophy – ‘I am here. This is me, and I am fine.’ Flaws and all, we need to accept ourselves as a whole in order to work effectively in rehearsals.

In order to achieve this, we were repeatedly put through a long-winded exercise of meditation and control – something of an endurance test for our concentration that ultimately paid off wonderfully. Beginning sitting on a row of chairs, comfortably resting against the back, feet hip-width apart and parallel, hands laid on our legs, we closed our eyes. Slowly, but thoroughly, we were to imagine a line travelling all the way up our body, connecting to key areas on its path. From the feet to the knees, then the hips, taking a moment to ensure the line was straight, the hips were firmly planted and our upper body wasn’t at all tense. Leaving the hips, it ascended to the belly and began to link itself to our breathing. From there the line rose to the solar plexus, then the heart, the throat, the space behind the eyes, ending out the top of our heads.

Alan Lyddiard Photo 2

To someone who hasn’t tried any meditative exercises before it can understandably all seem a bit farfetched, but as this imaginary line travelled up through these key points in the body I really did feel a physical change. I’ve done similar exercises to this before where you focus the mind on travelling through the body to consciously check on each individual part, mainly to relax muscles and prepare for rehearsal. The visualisation of the line in Alan’s version helped no end, though; it’s remarkable how focusing on its rising path gradually opens up the lungs and frees the breath, consequently giving greater control over movement.

Following this meditative stage, we opened our eyes and slowly carried out a series of motions: stand up; walk forward into the open space; pause; turn around and consider the chair; realise you would rather be back there and walk back; stop in front of the chair and look at it; turn back around, changing your mind yet again, confidently; walk back into the space; stop yet again and stare at your hand as it rises to eye level, then drops; say, simply ‘I remember’ or ‘I wish’.

In a list such as this, the sequence holds little meaning, but during the movement straight after our meditation it was difficult not to apply some kind of meaning. Alan pointed out the challenge that lies in striking the balance between overacting and wasting an opportunity. Perhaps the judgement of whether a performer succeeds in this challenge or not is the joint responsibility of the performer themselves and their audience; we certainly found so. I was one of a few who had the opportunity to step back and watch the rest of the group carry out the entire sequence. What I, and others who also watched, noticed was that we as an audience created our own stories to make sense of what we saw. Two people operating completely separately would appear as a synchronised couple; another would stand out as a leader due to nothing more than proceeding through the sequence ahead of others, and so on.Alan Lyddiard Photo 5

Alan has carried out this exercise with his own ensemble group every day for ten years. As the Emerging Perspectives Company we only did it for perhaps an hour (not counting its use in later activities) and already I could see the benefits it has in terms of both self and group awareness. Overall that is one of the most important parts of ensemble theatre – being conscious not only of your every move, but how your movement has an effect on the onstage image at any given time.

As a company we will need to maintain this awareness and slowly discover what our own identity is in order to work together at our best. I’m already more than confident that we’ll find success in this, not to mention very excited. We’ve all brought our own individual experiences and problems here with us, but the point is we are here now. This is us, and with any luck – and more excellent guidance from others like Alan – we’ll be just fine.simon butler

Simon Butler

For all the information about the Emerging Perspectives Company and our upcoming Masterclasses, visit our website HERE.

Emerging Perspectives Company | Rehersals for Behind Closed Doors | John Tissiman

This week’s session involved both the writers and actors again, as we move closer to getting the texts from page to stage.


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We started by working with Rob Tunrock’s Ravens. It was initially quite a daunting task getting up and performing something without any idea how we wanted it to look. I think this was also due to the fact that due to time restraints, we didn’t have a chance to warm up or talk prior to reading the scripts through. Its always difficult trying to act with a script in your hand, so the acting wasn’t necessarily the best it could have been, however it gave those who were spectators to the action an eye for what might look good when it comes to staging it properly.

I’m glad that we had the writers at the session, as it was helpful to understand what they wanted from certain scenes, and how we could convey those intentions. For Ravens we focused on the relationship between the two female characters, trying to gauge an understanding of how they would say certain lines. As I was playing the character that was the recipient of the majority of the conversation between the characters, I was able to convey how I felt in the situation and whether or not those feelings reflected those that the writer intended the character to feel.

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We next looked at Snap. The stage directions were initially quite clear in this text with five individuals sat around a table in a factory canteen. Things became slightly more difficult however when we realised that characters had certain physical interactions with one another. These interactions, for example knocking someone’s bag off the table, meant that we had to play a bit of musical chairs to make the staging fit the text. The other thing that we struggled with was the pace of this text, this was partly due to the fact that we were holding scripts again, but also the lines seemed to flow quite quickly and it seemed as though we were rushing through them, so I am looking forward to further sessions to work on these issues.

Ours/Yours, I think, was one of the easiest texts to get on its feet. I think the main reason for this was the fact that the stage directions were both clear and simple. I also think the pace was quite easy to get to grips with, due to the intended naturalism of the text. Despite the initial staging being seemingly simple, we did find that we became quite static on the stage. Because of this, going forward I think we need to work on characters intentions on each line and also intentions behind any movements.

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The last play we looked at was Real Person Fiction we didn’t have a huge amount of time to look at this play in this particular session, so had to skip through a few bits of the text. Much like Ours/Yours, as actors we did find that we were quite static on stage, and although told to move when it felt right, we still found it a bit forced to move around the stage. Again I think over the coming rehearsals the focus will be to establish the intentions behind movements and make sure that the action is interesting to watch. Overall it was a really constructive session and has allowed the actors to familiarise themselves the texts more and I cant speak for everyone but I believe we are all really looking forward to working on the texts more.

John Tissiman, performer, Emerging Perspectives Company 2014

Behind Closed Doors will play 5 East Midlands venues from 1 – 5 July; Manton Village Hall, Rutland on Tuesday 1 July, Guildhall Theatre, Derby on Wednesday 2 July, Create Theatre Mansfield on Thursday 3 July, Lakeside Arts Centre, Nottingham on Friday 4 July and Thurgarton Village Hall on Saturday 5 July. For further details about the show and booking information visit our website.

Emerging Perspectives Company | Devising and Performance | Charlotte Bond

This week, we created a piece in one day… and I have been asked to direct it! Our chosen theme was Truth & Lies, because we had already done a lot of work around this subject. The piece needed to be 20 minutes long and we only had a few hours to make it, before our audience arrived.

We started off in the morning with a physical warm-up from Callan, who is now working in TIE and is great at energising the group. I then asked the actors, Callan, Mia and John, which bits we’d already worked on which they’d like to include. We tried out a few sections but some of them really didn’t fit in and we felt that we required a larger group to have the same impact as before.

I then led and exercise – my favourite one – which asked them to take responsibility for something that was negative. I wanted them to convince me that it was THEY who had committed this terrible act or who done a bad thing. Where normally people would try to blame others, I wanted them to say “It was me”. This scene worked really well and we got Theresa in to watch to give us feedback.

Partly due to time constraints, but mainly because I wanted them to have some input and ownership, I asked them to create a piece of their own, using their own inspiration. I asked Mia to think about a poem, as this is one of her many talents and she didn’t disappoint – writing a piece that fitted perfectly. John had a few things he’d written previously and he performed it beautifully because it was so personal. Callan was inspired by some of the props we had around the room, particularly some clothes hangers and a clothing rail – he created a very physical piece utilising them. We all gave feedback on each others and tweaked the individual scenes to make them fit with our theme.

We suddenly realised that it was lunchtime and we only had two hours until our audience was due to arrive. I frantically put all our smaller scenes into a logical order and checked with the cast that they were happy. I also dressed our set – I was really missing the talents of Natalie who is a superb Stage Manager, she was very needed that day!

However we put together a piece that made sense, which flowed, which I thought an audience would enjoy and feel immersed in – particularly as we kept moving the audience around – I was extremely proud of what we had put together as an ensemble and it was very pressured in a short space of time.. however the end result was a piece of theatre and sometimes, you have to get a product and the process comes second.

As a director, I think I still have a lot to learn and it sure is different trying to put a devised piece together rather than working with a script! Even so, I really enjoyed it and felt very proud at the end.

Charlotte Bond, Performer, Emerging Perspectives Company