27.09.2018 – Spacecraft
I have just spent the last 2 weeks creating immersive underground theatre, and I have the dust in my lungs to prove it.
Spacecraft was a 2 week artist development course focusing on site specific creation, based in The Loco Klub – The Invisible Circus’ most recent project of reclamation and renovation, located underneath Temple Meads Station. Upstairs there are a couple of rooms which used to be a bar and social club for Great Western Railway workers. Downstairs is the ash pits, a line of 7 connected tunnels side by side which used to be used for storing transferring goods off and onto trains, back when the main station was situated in what is now the passenger shed. The tunnels are cold, and pitch black when unlit. Their architecture offers unique performance opportunities. There are 2 long parallel pathways which pass through stone arches between the tunnels, creating a grid-like network with lots of interesting sightlines, and loads of tunnel culdisacks, most of which in Invisibles have now decked out with raised stages and lighting rigs.
We were a group of 12 artists, invited and vetted by the awesome Sarah Fielding, who as ever brought together an amazing team of circus performers, dancers, clowns, and audio and visual creators. In week 1 we were joined by Rosy & Josh from Impermanence Dance, and playwright Adam Peck, for a series of workshops investigating methods of creating site responsive work. Adam showed us some useful writing exercises and spoke engagingly about action and narrative on stage. We also had an interesting conversation about the various interpretations of ‘dramaturgy’, a word I am still convinced no one actually knows the meaning of.
The Impermanent sessions were a sharing of process rather than knowledge. They taught us an exercise of their own invention which they call ‘question time’, which uses a questionnaire to force efficiency, clarity, and decisiveness when devising. I found it totally fascinating as a way of reducing a long devising process to a short, microcosmic version, and therefore mining all the experiential learning points in a fraction of the time. In deploying this exercise Rosy & Josh are strict and militantly pragmatic which I found super refreshing, and which made our two days working together both incredibly enriching and totally exhausting. I recommend this exercise for creators in any discipline to try, so pending their permission I will link the questionnaire at the bottom of this page.
Spacecraft week 2 was creation time. By now we were quite at home in the Loco Klub’s cavernous tunnels, and the group was starting to feel like an family – due partly to emotional and spiritual check-ins every morning, partly to necessity from being locked underground together for 6 hours a day. So, newly equipped with an inter-disciplinary site-specific toolkit, we dove (not dived? weird) headfirst into a super intense 4 day devising session. It was quite amazing to watch the various pieces emerge. We each had responsibility for the creation of one solo piece and one ensemble sequence, which we later wove into an ordered (?) journey which the audience would take around the space.
My personal highlights were: dancing to YMCA as bowling pins in Catherine & Jess’ ensemble, and being repeatedly bowled to the ground until we all went on ‘strike’, and Genevieve’s surreal clown installation, which made me laugh every single run, even when I could only hear it. I took the opportunity to forsake my circus practice, decisively sidestepping any medium in which I have any training or experience, and opting instead to write and act(!) an absurdist monologue around the themes of Christian scripture and obsessive disorder. It was really hard. My awe at talented dialogue writers and character actors was thoroughly renewed, and I became uncomfortably aware of my need for constant affirmation on stage, almost longing by the end of 4 days for a return to the straightforward trade offs of circus (tricks for claps, jokes for laughs, curly whirlys for gasps etc.).
The show came together and ran remarkably smoothly, the only notable hiccup being difficulties in crowd management – we attracted an audience of around 210 over 2 nights, about twice as many as anyone was expecting (I blame effective marketing). Our extensive technical team came through with a phenomenal series of soundscapes and projected visuals to totally transform the space in an unspeakably short time. I’m pretty sure they don’t sleep. Audience feedback was great (they even liked my biblical rantings), and although it obviously wasn’t the world’s most refined piece of performance, I consider it an unequivocal triumph considering the time scale.
All in all a superb couple of weeks. It was a total privilege to bubble away in that artistic melting pot, absorbing ideas and vibes and ways of thinking and doing. The diversity of talent and life experience amongst a group of 12 people was totally astonishing, and I am again humbled (and existentially paralysed) by the breadth of amazing ways people choose to spend their lives, even within our little performance world.