At our full day devising workshop we explored ideas through costumes. Costumes are transformative - they make us feel differently, help us adopt different roles; give us confidence and permission to be other than ourselves. It’s a perfect medium for devising.
We did a few exercises to understand better a performance principle: making changes in our body shape, altering way we walk, or introducing new gestures, changes the way we feel. We can find many ‘characters’ within us simply by changing physical thing about the way we move or stand and paying attention to how affects our inner feelings. In our first exercise everyone walked around the room and tried to find a common rhythm for walking so that everyone was in step, once that new rhythm had been found they ‘listened’ or paid attention to how that made you feel different. Many said it felt ‘unnatural’. Finding a character will initially feel strange just because it’s different. They then worked in pairs, one following the other and imitating characteristics of their partner's walk. Sitting down they were asked to find a little mannerism, such as rubbing their hands together, or some small trait of someone they know. They were to then to allow the feeling they got from that to affect the whole body. Immediately we saw another character emerge in people, very subtle but clearly different to their usual selves.
People then put on ‘practice skirts and they walked about paying attention to how the skirts forced them to move differently and how that adapted movement made them feel. Laura Stanfield, our designer demonstrated different ways of wearing a skirt; tucking them up into the waist, wearing them like a cape, lifting the bottom of the dress up and over your head (See below). Each changes solicited different manners of moving that and prompted different inner feelings; from feeling "more grounded" "floating", "spiritual" and so forth
So far in the process of ‘discovering the play’ our 4 heroes have been defined and have begun their journey, stepping through the threshold between this world, the one they know, and a different and unknown world of the Stone People. To move the story forward there were a number of things we wanted to develop and discover in this session:
We discussed a possible ‘Badlands’ the heroes need to cross before they meet the Stone People; somewhere that contrasts to them. Direct opposites of Stone people would be (no kind) Cruel, (not Creative) Destructive, (not Calm) Frenetic (not Ordered) Chaos (not Pure) soiled, (not Considerate) Oblivious (not gentle) but wild. We imagined a devilish King obese, and gluttonous, pushed around in a beaten up shopping trolley by buffoon cohorts. These clowns would tend to his every need, the flatter him; they are both terrified and in awe. They are ingratiating in front of the King and rude behind his back. This gives room for a lot of clownish business. Perhaps these creatures live in the darker underground fissure; fossil fuels, polluting smoke, volcanic ash, oil, coal dust and pure C02 is the air they breathe. They have the ear of the Climate Change Deniers: Those taking fossil fuels out of the ground; self-interested profiteers - Car manufacturers; Big Government who depend on the polluting industrialist to prop up their expensive election campaigns.. Maybe these underground creatures in the Badlands know they are destroying the planet - their ambition to to destroy the Stone People. There is something Faustian about the profiteers selling their souls for earthly rewards in disregard of the consequences for others.
In groups we created four paper costume images of the self-Profiting Climate Change Deniers.
Listening to previous discussions in the devising workshops the idea of their being spirits in the rocks, not least the Stone People has become very strong in everyone’s imagination. Our civilization of Stone People is very much like spirits’ and there may be others, in trees that are quite different; we should allow for others. I (Jon) pointed out that this is very close to the beliefs of the Australian Aborigine. We don’t want to appropriate the Aboriginals belief but I think we can extrapolate a simple idea to serve the play and the story we want to tell, and that is of the world and everything in it being ‘dreamed’, and continuing to be dreamed. The ‘Creation’ was not a one off event but the start of a continuing process. So maybe we can have ‘The First Dreamer” who dreams the land seas, the plants. During the Dreaming the first creator made men women and animals, declared the laws of the land and how people were to behave to one another, the customs of food supply and distribution, the rituals of initiation, the ceremonies of birth and death which are required to be performed. They hold and practice their belief so that their own Dreaming is ‘pure’ and a period on a positive continuum embracing past, present and future. So our Stone people continued preserve life on earth for us. They live in secret places, out of site. Other spirits may live in the trees, trees and water holes; others in the sky as natural forces such as wind, rain, thunder and lightning.
We took these ideas into a Creation myth that Jon wrote for a Chorus exercise. Everyone dressed up in a costume - gender neutral, no period or cultural restriction. They could wear whatever and however they wanted (skirts as shawls, trousers as scarfs) so long as they paid attention to what character was emerging from the clothes and how they made one feel. We wanted a chorus not as a single voice but a collection of unique individuals.
we finished the day thinking about how we move through, air, fish through water and how stone people might move through rock, perhaps it would need to be be fluid for them. We covered a group laying on th ground with parachute silk and simply asked them to breath more deeply, the material is very sensitive to movement. They were then asked to find their way out of the silks but to move very slowly, almost imperceptibly. This may be a possible image for the birth of the first dreamers.
An final thought: Connected to ‘Dreaming,” and to what we are doing when we listen to our own bodies and allow costume, new movements and ways of walking to change us and how we feel is the shamanic idea of dreaming. The Shaman’s term ‘dreamingbody’ is a name for unusual experiences and altered states of consciousness that try to reach our everyday awareness through signals such as body symptoms, movement impulses, dreams, and messages from the environment. It is a bonus that these exercises help us to be aware of these signals and become more in tune with each other and ourselves.
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.
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
We have unlocked one story about the Stone People told us collectively by a group of half mask:
Long ago women got their children by digging around in the earth, they would pull their children loose from the ground. They would not have dig so far down to find girls, because they were closer to the surface, but boys were harder to find, often they would have to dig very deep to find a boy. The men of the community, who never did any of the digging themselves, would say that strong women had many children, and lazy women had few or no children at all. It was also thought women who had boys had made a greater effort than those who had girls because they had to dig deeper to find them. Of course there were barren women as well. One woman who as yet has no name but who will be the protagonist in this story was one of these barren women. She spent all her time digging holes, she dug up hundreds of holes, but no child was to be found. At last she went to the Oracle who told her to dig in a certain place, and dig only there, and she would find her child. And she dug where she was told and dug deeper and deeper, she dug till she came to the other side of the earth. On the other side everything was in reverse. Babies were bigger than adults. Here two babies, a baby girl and a baby boy, adopted her. They carried her round in a sack, took great care of her and never let her go hungry. They all grew very fond of each other. One day her baby mother said to her “Is there anything you want, dear little one?” and she said she would like a baby of her own. “In that case” said the baby mother you should go to a place in the mountains and there you should start digging, and they took her to the place and left her to dig. She dug deeper and deeper until she discovered a tunnel, which joined with, may other tunnels, but none appeared to have an exit anywhere, neither did she find any babies on her travels through them. But she walked on and on until she grew so weary she just had to sleep. While she slept Claw Trolls found her and tore at her flesh, she managed to break away but finally grew so weak she lay down to die. But shortly a fox found her and said. “I will save you, mother. Just follow me”. With the last of her strength she followed the fox, which led her by the hand along many tunnels and through a hole into the daylight. Our heroine slept and when she woke she could not remember a thing, not a single thing. But found she way lying in her own house and there was a little boy child asleep in her arms.
We are approaching the devising of Legends of the Rocks as if the story already exists and all we have to do is discover what it is. Thinking of the play as something to be discovered, rather than invented means we feel less precious about our own ideas, that we accommodate our ideas to what else is happening; eventually ideas merge with others and then, when they are facts, they become the property of everyone.
The first thing we are seeking to discover is what we call “The World of the Play”. What sort of culture exists in this world, what are the people or creatures like, what do they believe, how do they live and move and breath, what are their concerns?
As director it’s my role to interpret what we find and lay out what I think we know, However devising isn’t always about agreeing. When we devise we need to go through a process of discovery, followed by interpretation of what we have found. We will next need discuss or test the interpretation. We encourage ‘disagreement with respect” by asking ourselves "What does the play want" rather that "What do I want". This is not a fight for individual ideas, we try and listen to the group mind. So this diary is me putting forward a proposition based on the exercises and scenes done at a devising workshops. Everything here remains open to discussion, disagreement, and development. Disagreement is tempered by the principle of accommodating and adding rather than blocking or cancelling ideas; we call it “Yes and…” It is the most productive way of moving a story forward.
People are already sending us great material and we invite everyone to keep sending us feedback, propose ideas, do some local research, find or write stories and pictures; give us something however small, or peripheral it may seem to you it may spark fresh ideas and become a relevant key to the play. Add comments to the blog. Please also come to the devising workshop, you won't be pressured into performing, be an audience, give feedback, have an input into the discussions propose ideas. It's a rewarding process. Someone asked me what I hoped people would get out of I said I hoped they had a good time., I've reflected on that a little more since:
I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you've never felt before, experience things for the first time. I hope you meet people with a different point of view, I hope you have opportunities to both defend the things you believe in, and be challenged to change your mind. I hope that you discover that you are braver than you feel, stronger than you believe, and smarter than you think. And of course I hope you have a good time.
Our inspiration starts with the Rocks around Rusthall, from the site at Toad Rock where we will perform the play to Happy Valley, Bulls Hollow, High Rocks and those across Tunbridge Wells Common. Walk among the them and you will see creatures and stone faces. Some of the faces are complete; elsewhere you might see only an eye and a nose, or lips, a forehead, cheeks or an ear. Full and half formed bodies too can be seen in the rocks and the tree roots growing out of the rocks, a torso, a foot, a shoulder and arm, or an arched back. In some places you see marks that look like someone or something has been trying to claw out or the rock, or are they trying to save themselves from being pulled in?
Legend of the Rocks first workshop was an introduction to composition. The day took the form of a typical composition workshop and I simply talked more about the reasons and thinking about the process than I would normally. I’ll leave explanations of the process out of my report here because you can read about the principles of composition in more detail here on line. Basically the composition workshops will help you to work in harmony as a group, give you material to inspire ideas to create theatre and prompts you use different viewpoints.
The workshop to the same basic form of a composition session:
The preparation prior to the workshop I gathered a range on material about rocks, toads, rituals, creation myths in the form of stories, poems, maps, essays, pictures and artifacts,
Compositions are dependent on people working as a group, accepting and building on each other’s offers so we start with introducing or reviewing the basic principles of improvisation, and encouraging people to work collaboratively.
Group Ball Throwing Warm up.
Everyone gets in a circle. Start by having one ball thrown round the circle each person marking who throws to them and whom they throw too. Start with everyone holding one hand in the air and when they get passed the ball they take their arm down. They throw the ball a few times to become familiar with the pattern. If they drop the ball they should be told “don’t think of it as a failure, don’t echo it, simply go pick the ball up and carry on. Don’t say sorry, either as a catcher or a thrower”.
/ Once they have improved catching and throwing add another ball, each time they improve significantly add another ball. We got three going.
The group is then asked to walk about the space receiving a ball from and throwing to the same people as before. They can throw or pass according to the distance they are from each other at the time. / Sometimes they are close enough to just pass the ball hand to hand. Add more balls/ Add another ball when they they are experienced enough.
Blocking - Peer Pressure Persuasion.
This exercise introduces accepting and blocking. Two players enthusiastically try and persuade a third to do something - Go out for a meal, to the theatre, a holiday- and they say “No’ and justify why.
Two people. A makes an offer. B says “Yes and…”
This is the most fundamental rule of improvisation ad devising. Look at this very simple exchange:
A ”Do you fancy a night out?” This is what we call an offer. It’s an invitation to do something.
B “Yes that would be great” Is accepting the offer. “And we could go bowling” This is making a further offer building on the first. Creating a scene like this means it’s always moving forward.
Discussion on Accepting and Blocking
We had a discussion about the difference between the “Yes and…” the accepting game and the “No…” blocking game. We concluded that we use just as much imagination saying no and justifying it as saying “Yes and.” The difference was “Yes and…” felt more positive, people became more energized; it takes you on a journey. So making a story happens when you stay positive. Stay out of conflict with each other for as long as possible. Just give some time before you add conflict. Conflict is when the something unusual happens in your everyday world. Stories usually start by showing us the everyday world of the character before something unusual happens. The everyday world we call ‘The platform’ the first unusual thing we call a tilt.
Start positive - establish the platform before you tilt. I suggested they think of your partner as a genius and his or her offer as a gift.
Giving Presents (AN OFFER IS A GIFT)
To encourage them to be positive they gave mimed presents to each other. I wanted them to be delighted with them and to say things like: “this is perfect, just what I wanted” Wow how did you know?” They moved around the room exchanging presents. Giving things they genuinely thought their partner would want. Then I asked them to give them mimed wrapped presents and this time the recipient was to define what it was not the giver. The joy you find in the present should be positive to make the giver feel good about what they’ve given you. They have given you the perfect present. Both these present giving games are about making your partner feel good. This is the second golden rule of improvisation.
We then played a game about the imagination.
This is Not a Chair
Everyone sat ion chairs in a circle and an empty chair was in the middl. I told them “This is not a chair…” and invited them to come into the centre if or when they had an idea to use it as if was something other than a chair. It’s perfectly fine to sit where they are if they don’t think of anything but I guessed that the group together was likely to think of more than fifty things between them. There was a pause and then someone stepped forward and used it as a zimmer frame. It started slowly, when it got to ten it sped up, they reached fifty in about eight minutes. It became a lawn mower, a pram, a supermarket trolley; then someone picked it became a hat, followed by a guitar, guitar, a backpack, then someone crawled under it, it became a POW escape tunnel, a MRI scanner. We talked about the collective imagination within the group; it exceeds that of any one individual and prompted individuals to think of ideas they wouldn’t have come up with on their own. It’s essential to trust that the collective imaginative power will support you.
In pairs they were given a single piece of paper and coloured pens. They were to illustrate a story I told them. They were to both work on the same picture, but were not to talk or communicate with each other, other that through the drawing. A started and on a signal B took over. Back and forth with drawing time of five, ten very occasionally fifteen seconds between. They were then to title the picture alternating between the two of them adding one letter at a time.
The Silent Tableaux
We came together as full group (15 people). Stood in a circle. I said we were now going to create a sculpture without talking. One person was to go into the centre and make a shape. It doesn’t matter if the shape represents something of not, but I did ask that it has a human quality of standing or walking or some gesture or activity. Once we had the first person in a frozen shape, another was to enter and create a shape that they think relates to or belongs to the first one. Then a third person enters, an them maybe a fourth. The group standing in the circle was to then move round the sculpture and see it from different viewpoints. They were to them think of a title but not to share the thought. We returned to the circle nd people spoke their titles out loud.
Notes on the Game: We talked about the statue through it’s different stages, what everyone felt it represented. “Someone standing in front of mirror” “An arrogant bully” “trying on a new outfit” etc. Then the second sculpture with two people, very few people changed there minds and simply justified the first idea with the second there was more consensus “ the shop assistant showing approval” “The Kings dresser.” One or two people changed their point of view changing from bully to “a high class tailors” By the third sculpture everyone was in total agreement it was trying on clothes in a shop with an assistant and friend”
Discussion reviewing what we have done so far and “the other identity in the room”
All the exercises and discussions up to this point were about accepting, building on those ideas, making adjustments to accommodate what your partner offers. There were also things about work as group, searching for census; that an idea can emerge out of the group that no one individual initiated. We talked about the group as “another identity in the room” another personality we can listen to and follow.
What we have done so far is about how we need to work together. That every session should begin with similar exercises that confirms and develops skills to work creatively as a group and with each other. Now we will look at some performance techniques that might inform the composition
Once we begin to know how to work together the facilitator of the composition workshop should give the participants a theatre language and techniques pertinent to the task they will set to devise a presentation.
As the composition task is to be directly about the rocks I thought it would be useful to do some mime work about resistance, leading to The clay man
In pairs, facing each other one foot in front of the other, reach both arms out in front so the palms of you and your partner’s hands are flat against each other, fingers pointing upward. When I ask you to start to add a gentle pressure so you are pushing against your partners hands. Slowly increase the pressure until you reach a point where one of you can’t offer any more force. Find the point of the maximum strength of the weakest person, and hold tht pressure - this is not a competition. Push. Relax. Try again and this time the strongest of you allows the other to win at the point you feel you are at the weakest members full potential. Let them win.
Same exercise but this time your hands are a bricks width apart 3”inces in old money. Push but keep the gap consistently the same. Try and win, allow yourself to be beaten, find the strength to win again. Show your partner your conviction to beat them and the struggle to defeat tem as you agree to loose. Give your partner what you feel they want. When they appear to want to win let them or lose, let them. If you are really exerting honest strength you will feel more exhausted by this exercise thn the previous.
Take a one-minute rest or shake out.
Sit quietly on your own and molding take some imagined clay in your hands: Imagine it sitting in you hands, feel its weight. Shave some sense memory of pushing and start molding it into something. Try and see the clay between your hands. Try and feel the resistance of the clay, it has a certain tension. The thicker the piece of clay the harder it is to manipulate or bend it, you need to exert more effort, greater pressure, just as you did with the pushing, Keep manipulating the clay, watch the clay take shape. Once I start to see a believable tension in their hands I asked them to keep modeling but look at your hands, they have taken on the tension of clay. It is now in your fingers. Watch the effect on your hands. Take the tension into your wrists, which are thicker than your finger so needs greater tension. Then move the elbow, then the shoulder. Moving just the arms make sure the- finger, wrists, elbows, and shoulders all have their different states of tension. Remember these are all relatively light to bending at the waist.
Molding partners – Everyone got into pairs. One then molded the other, starting with the hands and wrists, moving up to the elbow, shoulder, head and neck; finally the torso and legs. The sculptor moved the joint whilst the model resisted. Between them, with the sculptor asking for more or less resistance, they found a convincing quality of clay for each joint. The sculptors then walked round the ‘gallery’ of models. There was consensus that they looked amazingly like sculpted figures. ”They are alive but still” “They are all caught in a movement or gesture” “These could be works of art”
We now come to the composition
The main group broke into three smaller groups of five.. I explained that the key to composition work is to do a lot in a little time. When time limits are imposed and we not given time to think or talk too much wonderful work often emerges; what surfaces does not come out analysing ideas, but from your impulses, your dreams, your emotions. We call this “Exquisite Pressure” and it’s achieved by creating an environment where forces lean on the participants in a way that enables more, not less, creativity. Exquisite pressure comes from an attitude of necessity and respect for the people with whom you are working, for the amount of time you have, for the room you work in, for what you’re doing with all of these,
Choosing from the material
I described very briefly the material I had gathered to be the stimulus for there composition. I didn’t allow them to read any of material; they should just collectively come to an agreement about which one to work on. I told them they will have no more than a minute to choose.
Group 1 Chose: The Iroquois Creation myth
Group 2 chose: Climate Change
Group 3chose: Sophia - the wisdom given to women.
We create exquisite pressure by giving just the right amount of ingredients for the assignment (not too few, not too many) and determining the complexity of the assignment. There should be levels of difficulty with which you begin and to which you graduate. But in all cases, the challenge needs to be great enough, the stakes high enough for the group to enter into a state of spontaneous play.
So todays Task
Before I handed out the material I remind the group not to spend their time sitting and discussing and planning. From the start they should be on their feet. You can tell when a group is stuck- they are invariably sitting in a circle. Looking at their pieces of paper, all talking at once or not at all as they try to “come up with ideas”; but when a group is engaged they look like kids in a playground. I suggested they pick out phrases, or images or a short section, or story they find in the material and go with something short, simple, clear. They don’t have tor read the whole thing, it doesn’t need to be accurate or illustrate verbatim. Take a single idea and get on your feet, and see what happens with everyone listening to the group. Let your ideas go or incorporate them - don’t fight over choices. If a leader emerges at one point, let them, then you may take a lead, sometimes it should feel that no-one is leading it’s just happening. This will only happen in the doing, most unlikely will it happen in the talking. Get into improvisation mode as soon as possible. Create something. Repeat it maybe making adjustments, introducing something ne. Do it again.
They have three minutes reading talking
Now on your feet - you have ten minutes.
Every group had something to slow in ten minutes, One group finished early, I told them to use the entire time to repeat, polish, adjust, and improve. There was a playful atmosphere, the pressure wasn’t stressful it was fun, relaxed.
Presentations are disposable, they are akin to a painter’s sketchbook, they are ideas, half formulated plans, prompts. They can be developed or incorporated with other sketches at another time. They can be disposed of. But we will always record them because they may be useful later on, we can’t know, we don’t judge. Out of one two hour composition workshop we may end up with two minutes theatre or ten, or half -ideas we want to explore later. You cannot judge the success of a composition session by what you think is useful and what is not. What is not can so often be the germ of a fundamental idea that becomes the key to the play. We won’t know till its happening.