Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Blogging Resumes

Long silence does not imply inactivity. The last couple of weeks of any rehearsal process are the most intense, and that's probably even more true when the work is devised. Doubly true when it's devised and multi-media. After all the relentless experimentation, you have to knuckle under and say "OK - this is what we'll do", but at the same time not let the need for decisions drown the creativity. I re-staged the main crowd scene on the day before the tech - and messed around with several bits and pieces even after our first show last Wednesday. People in drama schools still seem to feel this is a bit unorthodox, but for me it's the life blood of theatre: you can't do something creative and alive if it stops being creative and alive. Life is change and growth.

Lessons kept coming through the whole of the process. There was a fascinating conversation with Haili about the difference between Western and Chinese approaches to rehearsal: in China, performers are constantly told how bad they are, while in the West everybody desires, and so expects, to be praised. I've long felt that a positive attitude was the best way to get good work out of people - but that's very alien to Chinese artists. Which could be intriguing come the autumn. Jenny, our DSM, found a way of creating a backing track for Yueju by playing back a filled-out version of the vocal line on a piano (thank god we had a musical DSM!). Costume changes threatened to take over the entire show at the Dress Rehearsal - leading to three actors being cut from one scene (and the scene, as so often with these things, worked much better as a result). And so on.

It's been an incredible opportunity to work the show like this: and the result is already very pleasing. The response has been terrific. Now the challenge is how to turn a piece created around 13 performers into something Border Crossings can afford to perform professionally.

Back to the admin. grind: funding applications, more venue chasing, more letters to the Yue opera to smooth the path with Chinese government permission. But we can move ahead with confidence now.

Wojtek has got a job with Paines Plough. Proof that mentoring works, I suppose. The timing is OK for us - he's held the admin fort really well while I've been rehearsing. Now, at least till we can find somebody else, it's back to me to run the show. This already includes thinking about next year's productions: some first ideas are stirring, as I chat to various African theatre experts on email......

Saturday, February 11, 2006


The play is now emerging in a clear form. Or a first clear form: because whatever it is like in the autumn, it can't be exactly like this. Devised pieces tend to end up being very much about the people who are in them, and so at the moment this is a play for (and about) thirteen people - which gives a really powerful sense of a society and a world, but which won't make much sense with five actors. Or however many I end up feeling I can afford. The great gain is to be working with young people on this first version - partly because of the enthusiasm for the process, but also because of the knowledge they bring of their own generation - crucial to the play and very different from my memories of being twenty-ish.

I'm excited by the beauty of what is now appearing. The play has an almost meditational quality about it - a holiness. This is something I really didn't expect a student group to discover - but they've taught me a lot about the spiritual hunger inside people their age. For all the apparent careerism (which in fact comes from the structures within which they operate), they are deeply aware of the need for a theatre that speaks to the soul. Several of them have been buying books of Taoist thought and poetry. Lao Tzu would seem the absolute antithesis to Western urban youth - and this contrast is now the main drama of the play. So far at least.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

The Fascination of What's Difficult

I spent Tuesday morning with Robert Lepage. He's the latest interviewee for the planned book on post-colonial / intercultural theatre, and as fascinating to talk to as he is in performance. He's also incredibly helpful about our current project: we talk about working with Chinese culture, about the Western gaze, about the mythology surrounding cross-gender performance. It's a real privilege to talk all this through with any other director, but with a truly great one......

And this work is truly, truly difficult. Difficult because it's truthful, but truth is such a fluid and shifting thing. So much of what is in this piece is alien to my experience, and it requires huge leaps of imagination to grapple with it. I think that's true for the students too. Haili, of course, knows the Yueju world and the Chinese background so much more intimately - without her this would be impossible. Because she's Chinese, she's very polite - I need to find a way of understanding the challenges she throws out - because they always require really powerful re-thinking.