At last - the first of the Laboratory workshops has happened, led by Farid Paya from the Théâtre du Lierre in Paris. He arrives on the Eurostar on Thursday night - working with us for two really wonderful days.
The focus of Farid's workshop is almost entirely on the practicalities of performance - how the voice is produced by the body - how we can use the body to create huge resonance and amazing sounds. He draws off Japanese, Chinese, Indian and Middle Eastern techniques - although always with the caveat that "This isn't the real technique: it is only the way we use it". It's very remarkable how rapidly the voices of the participants grow and blossom under his care. What really excites me about this work, however, is what is left unsaid about it - the way in which this expansion of human capability is in itself an exploration of what it means to be human; the way in which the expanded, resonant body becomes a far more significant vehicle than the everyday body; the way the trained and chanelled voice can act as an echo chamber in which spiritual sounds are heard. There's nothing new about this, of course - Tibetan Buddhism and Gregorian chant alike know all about it - but to hear such sounds in the secular space of theatre practice is what makes the work so exciting for the current moment, when we're so starved of spiritual truth, so much in need of a new mythology.
These two days have been so valuable in so many ways. There's the work itself, and the fact that it represents a first step for our Laboratory (the real potential of which is just beginning to dawn on me!) and for our relationship with Lierre, which Josip has so painstakingly brokered over the last few months. And there's the sense of the company as a company. The workshop has given us the chance to bring together some of the key actors we've been involved with over the last few years - and it's really warming to feel their presence here, advancing their own practice and the practice of the company as a group. So often this job can feel very lonely - yet, in the end, you can't make theatre without that reality of "company". The word doesn't just mean a legal entity - it's about human companionship and a shared endeavour.
Farid and I talk about all this. Even a company as established as his is very far from the ideal of the permanent ensemble (and perhaps that ideal just isn't possible any more). Like us, Lierre returns to certain key performers as part of a fluid group, which keeps changing according to the production. For us, the issues of cultural background are often so central to the project that the ensemble ideal just won't work. But the presence of really fine actors who know what we're trying to do and share those aims is very heartening to me; and their dialogue with performers from other cultural traditions is what will keep this company growing and further the work, as this workshop proves. Lovely to see Alistair, Anjali, Arnie, Indy and Lydia in action, alongside some very exciting people we'd not met before, who've got a sense of this work and want to experience it more fully.
I emerge on Saturday evening feeling refreshed in body, mind and spirit!