Wednesday, 23 July 2008

"precious things" (stella duffy, shaky isles theatre)

wednesday 23 July 2008

Precious Things (we used to go on pilgrimages)
a play in progress
Directed and Devised by Stella Duffy
with Performers Emma Deakin, Kane Bixley, Kirsty Hamilton, Aaron Hapuku, Erica Lowe, Sam Webster, Jess Wood and (in spirit) Miriama McDowell
Lighting Design by Scott Stewart
Technical Operator: Salvador Brown

part of Shaky Isles Festival of Aotearoa: a feast of New Zealand and Pacific Art & Culture
at Pacific Playhouse

Good evening and welcome to Precious Things, a new work in progress from Shaky Isles Theatre – We love the planet, we love cheap flights.
We love the planet, we love good steak. We love the planet, we like our i-pods, computers, cars, trains, buses, privacy, garden hoses, TVs, movies, music, clothes, shoes, avocados. We want to eat mussels off the rock, and sit under our very own pohutakawa. We don’t know what we’re prepared to give up, and we do know we’re distracted from the Very Good Causes by nice boys or pretty girls. We want to be good, we want to play – we wonder if the two things can go together.

It starts with the sound of the sea.
The company of 7 actors hold hands and breathe the waves in – and - out - and - in - and - out.
Except actually it doesn't necessarily start with the sea at all as i discover when I see the show a second time. It starts with a game where the company pick up and follow each other’s sounds and movements - working together to make themselves one unified moment that subtly shifts and morphs into something else without sense of who – ideally not really anyone - is leading.
And if I think they are making the sea this is as much what they make happen in my head as it is what they have chanced into on the stage. In the second show I saw, the movements tended to wards pendulum patterns – which they / I / we make into clocks ticking, and surges of heaving movement from one side to the other, at one moment I even made the sea again. But the show is and is made from what actually happens at and from each moment and what these become through the organic moulding by the group.
And this is the power and joy of this show – you feel it being made fresh in front of you and from what is being made you make your own memories and rediscoveries and wonderings.
At every moment it is unfalteringly performed with an absolute commitment and presence and alertness and imaginative spontaneity and great gleeful grins so that through much of it we are grinning in irresistible kinaesthetic recognition.
This game acts throughout the show as a transition into and out of the dialogue sequences.
It also provides time for us in the audience to follow a little way the explosion of memories and imaginings their stories set off for us …
“I've know that place…”
“I remember that smell…”
“What stories will my children tell when they've grown?” (not mine that one. obviously.)
“What do i want to remember about my own dad?” (not that one either.)

In the first show I remember the Sea featuring in the memories of precious moments in NZ and the River featuring in their London stories. In the second show this is less apparent and the personal stories are deeper, richer given bigger moments by questions – asked sometimes by fellow performers and sometimes silently by the protagonists themselves so their remembering of their precious moments uncurl with a fullness and quite extraordinarily fluency.

The show works through a series of sequences that Stella has storyboarded pictorially in a set of clear guide images down one wall
“I remember...”
“I know I'm a kiwi because…” (there's a geordie too)
“I know I’m a kiwi in London because...”
“I know I’ve been in London too long because…”
“The thing I care about is…”

A couple of sequences challenge us out of these gentle meanderings:
One is a game that seems to be called “you spoiled it!” At the first show this was teasing and fun; at the second show it started to build towards something that smelt more dangerous and I wonder if this could be taken without sacrificing authenticity?
The second is when the performers face us directly and tell us the things they don't care about - challenging us to dare to agree with them. These are mostly personal wants and lifestyle indulgences overtaking social and global concerns, but they also these also reveal a glimpse of some of the real values of these young people. The audience seem to receive this with a mixture of enjoyment, approval and uneasiness.

There is sequence headlined ''what I do care about is...” that cuts away the ensemble dynamic into a set of more disconnected voices - isolated for once in the telling and remembering of their own memories and using each other's feeds to re-activate their own stories. I wonder if this effect could be heightened by the performers disengaging completely from each other and disappearing visibly into their own treasures rather than continuing to the maintain their concentrated focus with and for each other?

I would also love to see a longer show that springboarded off into stories of some of the people we hear about but don t yet get to really meet- the dads, the mothers, the grandmother, the siblings and friends -the people who are part of the precious moments each player conjures up and in so doing hints at other's stories tucked inside. Is there a ‘russian doll game’ that could be played to find the Story inside the Story inside the Story inside the Story...?

And with more time I wonder what this company would make if they could take the LifeGame strategy longer and play out in reimaginings from the stories that are suggested and – at the moment only momentarily – visualised by the players: the dodgem car races; the first bottle of Tui beer on the porch with dad; the first meeting with your birth mother; the first boyfriend…

The great and exciting triumph of this show is the range and vitality of experience the form and the storytelling and the playing trigger in us - they give us a myriad of moments to recognise and weave into our own stories and a little time along the way to disappear into them
And it is wonderful to see the LifeGame form given this level of focus and development
This company look and sound onstage like an already mature and very strong ensemble with an abundance of energy immediacy and ensemble rapport and i am curious to know what magic formular made this possible in so little time? Stella? Emma? this particular group? kiwi-ism? the alchemy of impro?

Stella's next idea is to continue to work regularly with this company to discover what it might become and make next, and I wonder what would happen if they experimented at uncovering the stories about the people who have touched them from the parts of these they hold already

At the moment we are getting fragments that mostly tend to echo ourselves back to us - what more could be done with this?

And how could the brilliance of the ensemble togetherness now be played around with to allow for a variety of different moods and dynamics without risking the apparently ego-free collaboration in the joyful playful impro they are already making?

And yes yes Stella - what could you do with music?

What I hope this show / company will keep is its fresh and new response to my questions around how you make an exceptional experience for the audience that happens as much in our hearts and heads as it does on the stage?
Their answer seems to be: Make it authentic. Trust the moment. Trust the stories you have already. And trust the audience to bring themselves into the mix.

As a postscript it was great reminding Emma that barely a year ago she was producing her first ticketed play readings and now she has produced and sold this festival of mixed New Zealand arts - a huge achievement. The tough bit now is how to take the company to the next level and get the money for people to be paid and thus be able to make something that doesn't have to depend on people's donated time
A timely reminder of the tough uncaring world out there as I begin my return back into the performance arena …

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