13/08/18 I R A N Development
Updated: Aug 22, 2018
My newest solo project is still in a very early stage of development. I have shown the piece twice; once at Axis Arts Centre in Crewe and another at Scratch that Itch, In Good Company’s scratch night held in Derby. This is just a chance to describe where the show is after these two initial performances and where I see the show developing in the future.
This preview performance was 40 minutes long and was at a ‘first draft’ stage, showing all the material I had made so far. It was the first time showing the material to an audience and I knew immediately that some parts of the performance were not working. There was a moment in this preview show where I brought an audience member on stage (it just so happened to be my friend Libby who unknowingly sat in the seat I had pre-consigned), I knew immediately that this didn't work, it felt awkward for me as a performer and the audience as a whole. I also tripped over the treadmill at several points in the show and with each stumble I knew these moments didn't belong to the style of the show, they felt too clumsy, too clownish when the show needs to be sexy, synchronized and slick. The main thing that I took away from this preview was the messiness that clouded the already distorted narrative further.
The feedback from this performance was great though. There seemed to be a unanimous conclusion that the show would work and the idea of physically playing with text using the LED bar and a treadmill really resonated with people. There were also disagreements about the slickness of the performance and what the audience should take away when they walked out of the space. It was an audience I mostly knew which helped me feel comfortable showing something new, unsure and fragile. I felt they were also able to be honest and frank with me about the show.
The feedback was quite specific about parts that worked and that didn’t work so well. People seemed to hate the audience interaction and love the ‘putting on clothes using the LED bar’ section of the show. People also made links to mime and clowning that I didn’t want so I knew that must change. Generally, the piece needed to be cleaner, sharper with some kind of cohesion narratively at the end. People really loved the aesthetic and understood links to the 80’s without the piece necessarily being set there.
So, after letting all this feedback brew in my mind, the next question is what to do with show next. I applied for a scratch night in Derby called Scratch that Itch run by In Good Company. It was only a 20-minute slot but I felt this would give me an opportunity to show a refined, sharper selection of material.
I decided that one thing that needed to happen to make the performance slicker, sharper and sexier was if the treadmill was controlled by a technician instead of by myself on stage as in the previous work in progress show. I felt this would make the performance smoother, more enigmatic and produce more synergy between man and machine. There were a few issues with physically making the wire long enough but also asking so much of my technician Mark Hawkhead who would also be controlling the sound, the lighting and the LED text bar. I felt rehearsing with Mark and allowing him to take on a more dramaturgical role was also important. The fusing of the dramaturg and the technician is a role I have been exploring myself through working with company’s such as Reckless Sleepers and Massive Owl to become a ‘Techni-turg’. I was interested in what Mark would bring to the project and through rehearsing was becoming aware that me and Mark were making a kind of duet between myself, the performer, and the Mark, the technician. After only a few days it was clear that this was a partnership that had lots of potential.
The other major decision about staging concerned where the LED bar should be placed. When I envisioned the project, I imagined the staging would be similar to the set-up of an 80’s synth band with the LED bar in place of the keyboard but after Axis it was clear that this was creating difficulties with sightlines and also meant the audience often couldn’t see the text and myself, the performer, in one frame. Therefore, I took the decision to place the LED bar above my head on the platform, making it a more natural placement for subtitles but allowing everything to happen in one frame. I have also, over this process, become interested in presenting a performance in portrait rather than the traditional landscape form.
The third major decision about staging came from the clumsiness of the Axis performance and how much time I spent off the treadmill. I asked myself the question whether I could do the whole performance just on the treadmill alone. This was also informed by some feedback from Axis that suggested that there wasn’t enough running on the treadmill itself. After some thought I decided that I would attempt to do the entire performance just on the platform and the treadmill, I also felt that this would highlight the character’s isolation and anxiety. It would also question the location of the performance, by making this more conceptual choice the character could be existing inside someone’s head, on another planet, or on a suburban street in 80’s America.
By focusing on these staging changes and introducing Mark into the devising process, I felt I could review the material I showed at Axis and create a tight 20 minutes of polished material.
Showing the new material in a completely new place in front of new people I had never met was surprisingly daunting. Performing the show, I felt the staging was really working, I felt I was finding the awkward, anxious character but also found the conceptual elements of the staging were really helping to focus the attention of the audience.
The audience were quite diverse in age which was unexpected and exposed lots of them to challenging, contemporary work, to something different.
The feedback was eye-opening, lots of question about the performance were asked which I took away as good thing, the audience were engaged with what was happening a really wanted a conclusive coherent ending to the narrative. They enjoyed the conceptual choices around staging on the framing of a narrative around a song. The best peice of feedback I have ever received described the show as being “Like a techy Kate Bush wonderland.”– how amazing!
So, what’s next for the show? I still feel that the show would benefit from one more work in progress or a series of rehearsals before the show feels completed. Reviewing and stretching some of the material from Axis and Derby with the addition of new material I feel that the performance could be successful and achieve something different with how we look at subtitles and physicalizing text. I will also aim to make some bespoke sound tracks for the show and focus on making a more coherent ending for the show.
The two work in progress shows would not have been possible without the help of Mark Hawkhead, Neil McKenzie and the technical team at Axis Arts Centre, Danny Prosser, Liz Clarke, Michael O’Shea and Kieran O’Shea.