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.
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