I didn’t think I would feel the butterflies in my stomach and the nervous anticipation of being so close to the show opening for Dirty Market. I feel somewhat sick, I’m not going to lie. But how foolish that is to feel considering I’m not up there on the stage and I’ve not directed the show. I’m not being judged, and I’ve nothing to lose if the show isn’t received well by the audience, but I feel as if the show is as much mine as it is Dirty Market’s. I feel committed and bound by my presence in the rehearsal room as a sign that I too have had input into the show.
I’m currently sitting in the theatre space, the cast are running through the piece one last time to ensure that everything is fine. It’s too late if it isn’t fine but to give them this, this ownership of one more run through seems fitting. When they’re not running through their lines or repeating scenes there is nervous excitement in the air.
The electric excitement of a theatre show opening on it’s first night. I can feel it. It’s in the air.
… And to think that a month ago when I joined Dirty Market in their studio in their home the piece was an abstract idea. A collection of ideas and source materials. I’ve witnessed the attempts and successes of the company exploring unknown ground. I’ve seen them get lost and spend hours at a time discussing ideas attempting to find their way through words and sentences alike. I’ve seen improvisations and heard music and stories. I’ve seen the very fibres of theatre sewn together before my eyes. I’ve witnessed the process and now I’m sitting waiting to see the creation with this evening’s audience.
I’ve been part of the process in my own way, and now, now Dirty Market’s moment is to shine. Let the theatre commence… (and with that some nervous minutes of nail biting before the audience take their seats).
Four and a half hours until Be Good Revolutionaries opens at Ovalhouse Theatre.
The journey of Dirty Market making a new piece has almost come to an end. In a matter of hours the doors to the theatre will open and the work that has been kept behind closed doors will be open to the audience. How will having a living and breathing (and judgmental) audience in the space affect the piece? Will it hold it’s ground or crumble under the weight of an audience’s eye?
I like Anne Bogart’s way of describing the audience/theatre relationship. Bogart says:
“I think of the audience as a detective and the artist as the criminal. If you leave too many clues, the detective/audience will lose interest. If you leave too few, they will get lost. You have to leave a trail of clues with just enough information missing.”
This idea of leaving clues and giving only enough information and temptation to keep the audience interested in the world is an excellent way of looking at the dynamic of a piece of theatre. There are many moments within Dirty Market’s work that throw up questions of stylistic choices that may jar with the action or dialogue. These intentional moments of confusion are never really explained but rather are for the audience to figure out the oddness of the characters and narrative. All is not what it seems. Dirty Market will seduce their audience by leaving clues for them to follow.
In many ways that is the beauty of a work-in-progress piece, experimentation can be given and expectations can be challenged. There are no set rules and the bigger the leaps of faith the more chances for success in the work can be achieved.
The ensemble are currently going over scenes to ensure they are running smoothly but time is slowly ticking away. Soon the space that has been kept so closed off (aside from myself being present) will be opened out to the paying audience. Soon the work goes from being ‘ours’ to being ‘theirs’, the audience’s. There will be a shift in ownership, and who knows how it will be received.
Early in the process of documenting Dirty Market’s making process I wrote about the role of the two directors in rehearsals. Within this I spoke of the emphasis of the directors allowing the ensemble to shape the devising process with the directors role more of a curator or shaper of the work than forcing their own ideas and visions upon it. Now that the piece is as a whole, and a script has been formed, the role of the director has changed.
The rehearsals are now focused on refinement and clarity and with this comes Georgina as one half of the directing team pushing the actors to find the details within the work. Georgina works with the actors scene by scene to perfect each moment and to overcome any problems that arise within this. She works with a hands on approach, often entering the stage space to work with the actors and to show them what she means instead of just telling them from afar.
This direct approach is partly from Georgina’s background in acting and teaching. There are times when she ‘embodies’ the actors characters, taking the space as them and acting out their role for them. Within these moments you can see that Georgina has a certain idea of how she would like the character to be, this doesn’t mean she wants to force this upon the actor, as she is always accommodating to their own interpretations, but clearly in her ‘minds eye’ she can see the characters in the space.
In many ways Georgina is becoming a ‘traditional director’, and I’m aware that by calling her this there is a certain need to explain what ‘traditional’ is. When I write traditional I mean a director who has a notepad in hand taking notes, and encourages the actors to get the most from the characters and world of the play. A traditional director directs their actors in movement and dialogue. They offer notes after scenes and stop the action to feed in objectives and actions for the actors. Georgina is very much the driving force of the production and is an active director leading the cast through the work.
In comparison Jon, the other half of the Dirty Market directing team flits between fixing lighting, developing the music and photographing the action whilst also offering his directors eye over the work. It seems that Jon’s more tactile role is about ensuring that the world of the play is captured for the audience. He tinkers with the lighting and music during scenes but will stop to offer his suggestions on where a director should or shouldn’t move to. Jon has however led rehearsals on his own when Georgina could not be present. Whilst he might appear more of a designer/technician it would be unfair to brand him solely as this. Jon’s approaches to directing differ to Georgina and whilst he might remain quiet at times you know that he is sitting pondering the scene internally.
Together Georgina and Jon make a good team to work between. The overall vision that they have for Be Good Revolutionaries is going to be met because of the sheer breadth of scope the two of them have from acquiring a designers eye to the work, to directing actors or working collaboratively together. This dynamic is about balance and finding what is needed in a given moment. It’s the first time that I have seen a directing duo work before, and in many ways it seems an ideal approach. I can however see the drawbacks. There has to be a shared commitment towards the vision, and every directional decision of importance has to be agreed twice.
It’s curious to know that the role of the director can change over time depending upon the requirements of the production and process. The fluidity that I’ve seen in Dirty Market is encouraging to know that there are companies who are willing to break the mould of director/actor relationship. The openness to collaborative working and in giving everyone in the rehearsal room a valid opinion makes for a good working environment. Equally, Georgina’s understanding that what her actors now need is a more traditional director to see them through their characters and their work at this stage of the process is exactly what should be happening. A sharp eye for detail and a level of understanding means the actors are trusting her choices and the piece as a whole is gaining momentum during each run through.
I think on a personal level it would be good to see other directing styles within devising companies to see how when a piece is made from scratch but has a director the work is conceived in the rehearsal room. I’m sure there is no right or wrong way for being a director in this making of theatre but there must be a scale of intensity. My understanding has changed so much and I’m sure will change further.
You can work in a rehearsal room on building text and characters for months at a time - you can have a whole performance ready to be shown and transfer it into the theatre space ready for an audience. Yet to fill the cold and dark expanse of a black box studio space you need more than just good dialogue and direction, you need theatrics. Here I am referring to the use of lighting and sound, to bring about the full body of theatre (that is, if theatre can be compared to a naked body in need of dressing).
As Dirty Market prepare for the opening of their work-in-process showing tomorrow there is a palpable shift in atmosphere and dynamics when working in the theatre space with lighting and sound. At first there is the ‘working light’, a series of luminous strip lighting that are fitted throughout the space which casts a harsh glare into the space. This lighting is used whenever the theatrical lighting is not - during rehearsals, for the get in and get out with technicians, and more generally.
Suddenly we are plunged into darkness.
For a few seconds there is utter silence in the space before the hum of filaments and electricity is heard above our heads. There is nothing nicer than the sound of a theatre’s lighting equipment warming up. It’s that hum of excitement, of promise of theatre magic and yes, it is a feeling of coming home. It’s a sound that I’ve heard many times over the years, not only as an audience member waiting before a show but also in my places of work in theatres over the years.
As the space fills with colours, spotlights and washes, the shift in dynamics is phenomenal. From coldness comes warmth and life. The set and arranged props may look their part under the working lights, but under the theatrical glow of colours from the lighting equipment they come alive. The ensemble appear in their spotlights with renewed energy and the hot atmosphere of Latin America is felt immediately.
From all around the space the sounds of birds and hanging chimes blowing in the wind is heard. A melody of guitars drift through the theatre’s sound system and the cast begin to act their parts. The space is alive, and the theatre is living, breathing - it is theatre.
It is within this moment that a flutter of emotions seems to rise up from the pit of my stomach into my chest. Last week in the first rehearsal in Ovalhouse Theatre’s upstairs rehearsal space I felt a vast emptiness towards the cold frustration of a rehearsal room challenging Dirty Market to create work from nothing. Now with lighting and sound filling every conceivable space I feel jubilation and yes, yes, I can feel it, the end sight of the theatre making process.
You see, theatre lighting and sound is never an element of theatre making that is thought of first (unless you’re theatre companies such as Filter or Sound and Fury), instead it falls to the latter stages of the process. For me however, it is within this latter stage that all of the elements of the performance process is brought together and felt as one. Without lighting and sound, theatre for me is a lifeless limp, lacking the blood that will give it real extended life.
With lighting set, and sound floating through the space, I think we can safely say that Dirty Market have reached their destination: putting on a show at Ovalhouse Theatre.
Rain is falling outside and there is a distinct chill in the theatre.
Tomorrow Dirty Market present the first evening of their work-in-progress piece Be Good Revolutionaries at Ovalhouse Theatre.
From just a series of ideas and sketches the company have developed half of what they hope will become a full length production. This excites me, even more so because I’ve been part of the process, witnessing the creation and development of the piece.
At 3pm today they will conduct a run through of the piece with lighting and sound cues so that several Ovalhouse staff can see the piece in its current state. Then tomorrow, ah tomorrow, this is where the real fun begins. A budding audience curious to explore the unknown of a new piece will enter the transformed theatre space and Dirty Market hope (and I too) that the fruits of their labour will have come to be worth it. Of course it will have been worth it, but rather, the challenge of creating a new piece in a large empty theatre space will have be complete.
- Scene by scene definition and attention to detail is being made
- the hanging sheets remain, and they have grown in numbers too
- space is washes with colour
- the ensemble are calm and determined
- there is a show, nearly, very nearly completed
The downstairs theatre at Ovalhouse has been transformed with sheets, carnival objects, apples and shrines. Given that Dirty Market are only a small company I’m impressed with the varying levels and layers within the design work. Whilst there is no set designer the company have used the skills of themselves, friends and family to bring life into what was initially a vast empty studio space.
Whilst the transformation is impressive to the eye, there appears to be a problem that keeps arising during rehearsals. The downstairs space at Ovalhouse has an extraordinary depth to it, even more so when the seating is pushed back as it is now. Dirty Market have decided to position the audience along the whole length of the studio in two rows of fifteen seats. As the show is only a work-in-progress the audience numbers have been kept to a minimum. With the audience stretched out along the space there are vast differences in the sight lines from one end to another, the sheets hanging throughout the space continually block scenes.
The sheets that act as easily moveable walls, whilst looking effective in the space, are becoming a hindrance. It’s a shame because as a design element they work, but if they continue to prove to be blocking the audience from the action they might have to be reconsidered. Saying this, there is an easy solution. Moving the sheets to the furthest points of the studio space and only using them as a way of framing action in front could work, although this does mean you loose the aesthetics of the overall space.
Personally I think Dirty Market will struggle with having the audience positioned as they currently do, and there is nothing worse than having to continually shift in your seat to try and see the theatre in front of you. Another bug bear of mine is when directors place action on the floor in front of the audience. Unless you have rake seating where audiences can clearly see over each others heads then any ground action really has to be thought through. There are a number of moments in Dirty Market’s piece that take part on the floor… I just hope you’ll be able to see them.
There is a fine balance between having something look good in the space and something that works practically in the space. Compromises sometimes have to be made to ensure that you give the audience the best possible experience. Dirty Market have already cut an immersive introduction for the audience, initially allowing them to walk through the sheets and the whole space to instead just taking their seats. Aesthetically it would have worked especially with some of the smaller details within the design work but practically it would have been a headache. Was there a purpose to it beyond aesthetics, perhaps not.
It’s Tuesday at 15:42. Three days until the lights go up on Be Good Revolutionaries. Dirty Market are rehearsing and re-rehearsing within the space, finding the rhythm and
- It’s within the small details that Dirty Market’s imaginative and colourful work comes alive. Shrines are dotted around the performance space with objects of all shapes and sizes, filled with trinkets and ornaments.
- Georgina directs the ensemble. Jon focuses on building the space.
- Every spare moment the ensemble are line learning.
- The company are working until 10pm tonight. Rehearsing, and rehearsing. Again, and again.
- Sheets hanging in the space are blocking the audiences view. How do you keep the aesthetic whilst being practical?
- Time is running out.
- Several cast members are missing from rehearsals, what impact does this have?
Benjamin of Heads Up Productions has asked to find out more about the use of Anne Bogart’s compositional work in Dirty Market’s devising process. Now that I’m sitting in the theatre watching a run through I can see clearly how earlier exercises have led to where the company are now.
Dirty Market set tasks for their ensemble to complete early in rehearsals, these are partly based on Bogart’s exercises in The Viewpoints, and partly on their own method of working:
1. Creating free writes
Each ensemble member is given roughly 3-5 minutes for the exercise. Thinking about a theme or reacting upon a previous exercise, the ensemble write on a piece of paper a stream of conscious thoughts. Even if they get lost or can’t think of anything to write, the pen must constantly be moving with words written.
Working in small groups the ensemble are given 15-25 minutes to create a short composition based on the free writing they have just written. The dialogue for the composition comes entirely from the free writing and every word must be used. Certain elements must also be included in the composition. They are:
- a sustained moment where everyone is looking up
- a sustained passionate kiss
- one gesture repeated fifteen times
- a staged accident
- twenty consecutive seconds of stillness, of unison action, of sustained laughter
- something sung
- something very loud
From this a composition is developed. A composition is, as Bogart suggests:
“the act of writing as a group, in time and space, using the language of the theatre. Participants create short pieces for the stage by putting together raw material into a form that is repeatable, theatrical, communicative and dramatic”
Dirty Market’s approach to composition is to merge the creating of text with the creating of a scene for performance.
After the compositions are performed feedback is given in the form of everyone in the room sharing one thing that they remember, one thing that they loved and one thing that they would develop or change. This feedback helps to inform the ensemble with what was working and what should be carried forwards.
4. Further development
The compositions created are now developed further, with attention paid to some of the elements given. Characters might be removed entirely or certain moments brought forwards in intention and purpose. Refinement of action, movement and intention is made.
5. Within the whole piece.
Through continually developing compositions Dirty Market build up a collection of compositions which can then be joined together and edited to fit their purpose within a whole piece. The structure of the piece is developed out of Bogart’s method of compositions.
6. The script
Compositions are finally transferred into a working script for the ensemble including stage directions such as those elements of sustained laughter or sound.
From simply writing freely around a theme, through to developing compositions, a play is formed.
Thinking about a particular scene in the piece at the moment I can see how this process of compositions has led to where the ensemble are now. Take the seduction between The Peasant and The Mother… this scene initially started as an exercise between The Peasant, The Mother and the character of Dark sat at the kitchen table. It was a scene full of stumbling laughter and strange actions. Whilst the initial composition was a little rough, the principle of The Peasant wanting to seduce The Mother as they spoke out of admiration of their memories of The Father (who we never see throughout the piece, he is in fact Che Guevara and the family are his own) worked. Dark as the dead character was a haunting presence on the scene but once the composition was moved and fixed in the whole piece her presence no longer worked so she was removed. Several of the actions such as ‘the staged accident’ turned into ways in which The Peasant was trying, and failing to seduce The Mother with flowers and kisses (the sustained passionate kiss). From Bogart’s instructions in developing a composition, Dirty Market have produced a scene that fits the characters and story, but also has dialogue that has been developed solely from the ensemble. The odd line might have been adapted but nearly all of the text has remained straight out of the free writing.
This is an example of how compositions have been developed in the making process to form a finished working script for the ensemble and company. From first the imagination and the use of tailored exercises comes the written scene.
I’ve been asking myself the question: What is the purpose of documenting theatre work? This question arising from me documenting and responding to Dirty Market’s theatre making process through this blog. Part of this questioning comes from a fear. A fear of no one reading it. A fear that no one cares. A fear that documenting theatre work has no real purpose. A fear of it being deemed egotistical.
Naturally these fears are perhaps unfounded, but I think it’s good to not feel too comfortable within your work. It’s better to lose a little faith and work harder at what you are doing than to be arrogant and let your work be hindered by it.
Back to the question at hand: Is there a purpose to documenting theatre work?
I guess it depends on what the work was, and what the documentation would be used for. When I think of some of the larger theatre companies that I like and enjoy of their work I think that there is a curious need for me to find out more. I like seeing how a piece came together, or at least learn about things I would never have done through just seeing a production. Do I feel the same of smaller companies? I guess it depends on my association with them, and what they are trying to achieve through their documentation. Smaller companies perhaps offer a better insight because there is an openness that doesn’t require producers and marketing executives to agree to all the box ticking for documentation to take place.
This project (Digital Dirty Market) of documentation came out of my desire to move away from marketing of theatre. It happens to be my ‘day job’ which means when I see theatres and theatre companies putting out blogs, videos and pictures of their work I just see the marketing that is associated with it. In my position with Dirty Market it was agreed that this project would not be about marketing - aside from the general awareness that was raised from me documenting their work.
So the purpose of the documentation is important. Selling tickets, raising awareness, preserving for future audiences (which I think is important) or just about being able to get an inside eye upon the process that is often behind closed doors can all amount to the outcome of documentation.
I guess some of the need to document theatre work is because of the short exposure of life a theatre piece has. Unless the piece ends as being part of a repertory or travels the world touring, the average shelf life for a production is between 2-4 weeks. If you are in the right theatre at the right time you will see the work, otherwise it is gone forever. Theatre isn’t like music or film which in its very documentation becomes a record of itself to be listened/watched repeatedly. Theatre is for the live moment, and documentation of it therefore extends the life and extends the audience reach.
I’m sure there is more purposes than those that I have outlined above, so if you do have a moment I’d be keen to hear what you think. Feedback on Digital Dirty Market is also welcome, just comment on any of the blogs made or drop me an email at jake[at]ayoungertheatre.com