DEVISING WITH MUSIC
Workshop with David Brett and Jon Oram
This full day workshop devising with music and sounds, inspired movement and improvised scenes.
A group of eighteen explored what images and sounds they could make with 10 feet poles. They first stood in a circle with the poles angled down to the centre and slowly raised them till they created the same shape reversed, poles ends meeting at the highest point in the centre of the circle, reminding us of ancient round huts. We played with the sounds of poles clicking together. The circle led to devising part of the “ceremony of dousing and the birthing of the stone children” One could imagine a mother in the centre of the circle digging for her child. The group then passed poles round in a circle hand- to- hand in a rhythm finding a synchronised moment to beat the sticks on the ground; and another moment to change direction from clockwise to anti clockwise. In the next exercise we found choreographed rhythms
The group then progressed further an idea from last Tuesday's devising workshop, finding out how the stones speak to each other. We found different pitched voices using combinations of large, medium and small stones and discovered stones can chatter, laugh, argue, get angry, flirt. It became natural for people to take the feelings the stones gave down into their bodies. Jon then led pairs in discovering scenes using the idea that the dialogue of the stones could either impelled you towards your partner, repel you away, or compel you stand still. They created funny and moving scenes, arguments and status exchanges. One exercise involved four people communicating with stone tapping and instructed to make friends with two other people, It was touching and moving to see and hear them jostle for positions as they realised that one person would be ousted from the group. We were encouraged that we could tell stories an show complex relationships in a language the audience could understand.
We took Sonia Lawrence's poem Digging is Obligatory (See comments 5th May Blog) and read it as a group one word at a time, then in pairs with the same exercise tried making it sound like natural speech. It proved impossible but gave each word equal weight. We read as a group again, two lines at a time. In smaller groups of five we composed a performance of 5 lines each exploring rhythms, expanded gestures, seeing what could heightened what sung, whether lines we spoken in unison or repeated, Each groups five lines contributed to a performance of the whole poem.
We sang African, Inuit and Sioux songs and created a musical soundscape to accompany some potential movement states of tension - molding (moving like clay); floating, flying (a state of fear or flight) and radiating energy ( strength, spirituality, reflecting the oracle
Thanks to Michael Lawrence for this picture of some of the group creating a soundscape. We want to encourage all of you to draw and send pictures of moments in workshops, or from stories in the blogs along with a title so that we can create a storyboard. The pictures will be an aide memoir of the highlights of the devising - it will guide is in deciding scenes and their order when we come to composition workshops.
Send your drawings, pictures or photo's by E.Mail to
DEVISING WITH MUSIC
These notes on are based on those I sent David Brett our Music Director. They are some early thoughts on how music might benefit the devising process and be employed in performance
I'd like the music to be an essential influence not just in creating songs and a *soundtrack for the show, but using it to devise the play. We need to brainstorm ideas together but here are a few ideas and thoughts to start us of. I see the music it as a tool for setting up the right rehearsal environment, inspiring theatrical scenarios, offering inspiration through lyrics and compositional content, providing structure for improvisation sessions.
*I'm using the term "soundtrack" because I think for some scenes we will be aligning the music with the action and in some cases direct choreography.
I think the music could influence the structure of the show especially running time scenes. I estimate most scene will last approximately 3 1/2 minutes, about the same as an average pop song. This seems a very watchable rate. It's pretty much what we've done with promenade community plays in the past and in a TV centric world that's about the average attention span. Maybe that is why pop songs are pretty much the same length. Anyway it's no bad objective when devising material to think in terms of 3 1/2 minute scenes. Of course we can always break the rule and have a splendid Bohemian Rhapsody, midway through the play.
I’ve had a thought that the stone children learn move by manipulation, I saw a mother the other day holding her child's hands to support it's walking it looked puppetry. Perhaps the stone elders play manipulation games with their children. We are already discovering the way stones communicate in sound by tapping pebbles.. I feel this will inevitably lead to percussive music., choruses translating stone language with with words either spoken or sung in the same rhythmic pattern of the pebbles. Now we need to the equivalent in movement and gesture; music can inspire that.
We should pull out some film sound tracks - not to use in performance necessarily- but if we listened to music together we might get ideas, not least we will find a vocabulary. It's not a bad idea to start with recorded music to inspires a scene or accompany something we are already doing. We can create a live alternative later. We can use Improvised music too of course, even in the show.
I think I mentioned the idea of an overture, something that happens in the space before the play begins. Sound coming from the cave or above or behind or among the rocks but unseen. Maybe something physical happens momentarily - like a trailer of things to come. We could pick out characters involved in moments from the play - dramatic highlights.
At the moment I'm mostly seeing the scope for instrumental music; but we need songs too. For me the song has to be integral to the story - we don’t stop for a song - The song should add to the narrative, or the argument. Work songs are a good example. I like what you said, David about singing comes when there are no more words to be said, It is a an outpouring though, bringing something felt to the surface; the lyrics have to be specific. When dialogue starts emerging from the devising workshops some might become lyrics.. I like the idea of using songs from popular culture and the suggestion of Tom Waites 'Underground' If we can replicate that gravel sound it could be wonderful. The words too are spot on, it brings a menace we've not thought about. Rocks can feel threatening.
Words will start to emerging in the coming stages of devising, including potential lyrics; people are already sending poems. I'll start recording improvisations and reusing the dialogue, and in some instances we could try singing it like opera - then we will discover rhythms that might allow the spoken words to be turned into a song. We should go back and forth with music, words and movement with people who are happy to do that so any one medium can inspire something in the others.
There’s potential for music and sound in the spaces in dialogue (textual space) and the space between players. The Textual space is more than the gaps in speech it's those moments where there is a sense of absence, something being unsaid that might best be filled with another language. (this is where you might put in a song)
But It’s also about the moment when the audience might lean forward to engage in what is really going on. Song is great for bringing inner feelings and thoughts to the surface, Dance and Physical theatre works best illustrating the subtext rather than the content. usually a very intimate moment but we have a big outdoor space to fill; we can only create the subtleties of relationships by expanding on the moment; songs do that, but so does dance and physical theatre. I would like to try elements of song, dialogue, soundtrack, dance, physical theatre, heightened and natural gesture in different combinations., It's a great devising ploy in any event and forces discovery.
There's a video link below that might explain a part of what I mean, It's from Can we Talk About This? by the physical theatre company DV8. They use a combination of dance, expanded and natural gestures that flows together. I think is remarkable. It displays extraordinary physical skill, strength and dexterity we wouldn't be able to emulate but the underlying theory is applicable. There is an essential language between gesture and dance that I’m interested in that might become the language of the Stone People.. Groups, families and cultures share the same language and pick up common accents, and they also have shared gestures. This might take us theatrically into chorus work and Corp du Mime but also its also says something about finding commonality which I think is becoming an important theme in the play. This to me is all about listening to each other. Look how these two performers are engaged in listening to each other physically whilst communicating something else out to the audience. In devising and rehearsing the movement we find will come directly from the performer, so by definition will be in the physical range of whoever produces, it may need to be less dance more expanded gestures, with rhythms and repetitions, but who knows what we will discover. However big or small the movements it is all connected to music.
THE LANDSCAPE INVESTIGATOR
19th March 2019 Devising with Movement Workshop
We had some great discoveries in our devising workshops. It does feels very much like a discovery exercise, almost like the play is already there, we simply have to unearth it. Everyone who has attended has made interesting contributions and there has been nothing but positive feedback. If you've not been along yet, do give it a go, it's one of the most rewarding parts of the process.
There were twenty people at the March 19th workshop. We first invited Nigel Stapple to talk about the Rocks. Nigel described himself as a ‘Landscape Investigator’. He is a member of a group called Wicked Archaeology. He said that he believes the area around Toad Rock is a prehistoric ritual site. There has been a cluster of Mesolithic finds. Mesolithic people lived 6000 to 8000 years ago. Springs and water were venerated at that time and he believes the site was venerated. He believes there is a stone circle directly behind Toad Rock. In 1900 the stone circle existed on maps. Nigel thinks the stone circle may have been a barrow not necessarily for people but possibly for buildings. There is also a passageway behind Toad Rock where there are 2 levels of erosion one possibly caused by bare feet and sandals and the other by modern day harder shoes form the 1800’s onwards. There may also be a semi stone circle below Toad Rock; because it’s so large it can only be seen from above. Nigel thinks man may well have formed The Toad as it is so different from any other natural rock formations. Ancient people liked steep banks as they saw them as the world turned upside down (Happy Valley). Rusthall was originally called Hungershall. Medieval quarrying involved splitting stones for stone circles etc. There is no evidence of modern quarrying. Demand for stone started in 1650’s. Qualified archaeologists have overlooked the site. Wellington rocks were heavily quarried in the 1800s so the hotels on Mount Ephraim would have a better view.
The Language of the Rocks
The group began imagining and exploring how the Stone people communicated, and played with communication by tapping stones together, finding rhythms and speech patterns. A Victorian guidebook refers to a blood stone, a rock that bled. It’s location is now unclear but we surmised it was the soul or spirit of the rocks that had been stolen by a fossil hunter. Under David Brett’s direction the group developed a soundscape telling the story of the rocks waking and chirping like a dawn chorus, interrupted by a new and threatening sound; the fossil hunter hammering at the blood stone, followed by the screams and sounds of anguish as it’s ripped from the rocks. We developed the idea that it might have been a quarryman that the rocks refer to as the Memory Hunter. The loss of the blood stone has silenced the stones, they can no longer share their knowledge with us, and we have lost touch with the earth. This was all a good 'warm-up' to the upcoming full day "Devising with Music Workshop.'.
We Need you pictures to create a Storyboard
We need pictures, drawings or photo's so we can create a storyboard at the end of the devising process. We are not looking for great art, or brilliant drawings, just an image with a title of ideas or moments from the workshop or stories and comments on these blogs. If we have a good collection of images by for the weekend composition workshops on May 18th - 19th we can make a storyboard and find an order for the scenes, see where the gaps are and get an overview of the whole play.
Roddy Maude Roxby sent these pictures of pebbles with faces, a Stone figure with a child and a carved head.
WHAT WE DID
When people arrived they were given notes of what we know so far about the world of the play. The intention was to go deeper into what we know rather than progress into any narrative. This led to a discussion. The evening was billed as movement, mime though I also brought some masks I’ve recently made to look like stone, which is where we began, looking at masks emerging from the rocks. The responses to the stone masks were emotionally compelling, as they pulled themselves out of the rock. They held the attention, even though I asked them to do very little. They moved slowly, I asked them to move with the tension of clay. They became aware of each other and formed into groups or families. One became isolated. They then became aware of the audience. The experience for the audience and the masks as they confronted each other was one of curiosity, and empathy. The masks were cautious but not over concerned. We explored how children might react.
We also looked at stone children wearing masks on the knee. The audience was more charmed and felt no threat from the stone children.
We then had groups creating what I call Problem Pictures. We molded the people in the groups into a living picture. The first resembled a Mother pulling her baby from the ground. We asked them questions while they were frozen in these shapes and then had a conversation with them in role. The group was a mother, husband and sister. It was their first child. The husband had several wives. This was his first child with this wife. The wife was happy, the sister was happy for her.
The second picture was a woman digging for her child and a group pushing goading her on. One who I assumed was the husband ordered her to dig. The wife was desperate, frantic in her digging. She split the child and abandoned it. She was pushed to dig deeper, She got more distressed she couldn’t find a child. This was followed again by the group who had been in the sculpture in conversation with the workshop audience.
When rocks return or reawaken after the long wait they will have changed form, sparrows, toad, handsome men. They may even be reawakened at different ages. The earth then is imbued with intelligence, knowledge and wisdom far greater than our own.
Stone People - Parents Men’s role is to collect insects, earth, and snakes to feed their families; they look after the insides of their children, while women look after their outsides. Conversely women look after the insides of homes while men look after the outsides.
Stone People’s Warning. The stones have come back to warn us about climate change/fracking. We don’t know what we take from the earth. Other cultures show gratitude and kindness towards nature/environment.
NB: Reference was made to the film Princess Mononoke from the Japanese Ghibli Studios about respecting the environment
The Causes of the Eternal Wait -Some disaster in the past has caused the Rocks to be frozen for thousands of years, some in the process of being born. We don’t as yet know what event caused it. Potential suspects are
The Fossil Hunter - One of the Stone people’s spiritual leaders was cracked open by a geologist or fossil hunter. Many of the leaders followers wear a mallet round their necks in memory of him. Among the recorded Victorian names of rocks is The Bloodstain, known to other sources as the Bleeding Rock. It is generally understood as a spot where dripping water left an iron stain, but no site fitting this description can be pointed out today. It needs to be found. It could mark the place where the stone people\s spiritual leader was split.
The Toad - The lost Ritual The Toad was present at the time of creation shaped by the ice man but that story has not yet been fully discovered never mind told. The Toad is an important symbol to the Stone People. We think there was a long lost ritual when they paid honour to the toad, in a manner similar to the present day well dressers of Derbyshire. The ritual would have marked their gratitude for water and the natural world.
If we were to revive the ritual it may be a way to reawaken the stone people to tell us their stories
Viv said there was a well in Eales Terrace under her house and her neighbors. Discussed significance of frogs in relation to the health of the planet, ecological issues, conservation and Acid rain eroding stone.
The Sounds of the Stones: David Brett, wooden poles knocked against rock.
Karen Gardner suggested this short film as a stimulus for future workshop. Take a look