Archive for October, 2007|Monthly archive page

Post-Hunger…

The Age published a very glowing review of Hunger (read it here).

The Theatre Notes blog also published a review – here.

Two quite different points of view. The Theatre Notes review has been commented on further by a reader – making for an interesting dialogue. Blogs are particularly interesting avenues for reviews and commentary because they offer readers the possibility of responding to the views expressed with their own.

Feeling quite knackered today. Musicircus on Friday night went well – but I think the role of creating and leading a new project so soon after Hunger did my head in. I spent the weekend feeling weepy and tired and overwhelmed. I’m still fragile today.

On Wednesday I drive 3.5 hours to Albury (surely it doesn’t take that long??) where I spend the rest of the week working with AYO’s Sartory String Quartet and local children on a creative project. Hopefully my brain will be back in gear tomorrow.

More thoughts on shows I’ve seen…

And yet more hindsight! The interesting thing I am discovering at the moment is how many fragments of This Show Is About People have stayed in my head. I keep returning to certain images. Today I was replaying my favourite moment, when the audience realises for the first time that two of the cast members are twins, and that what we thought was a reflection in a mirror-surface was in fact exquisite, perfectly toned placement of two identical actors, the illusion broken when one moves independently of the other, and we wonder if she was there all along, and how she got on stage in the first place.

In my initial commentary on the work, I suggested that it needed further digestion time. Now, as images keep returning to me, unbidden, I wonder if in fact I am the one needing more time. Time to sit with the work – if not in the theatre, then in my head. Or perhaps this infectious subtle, sneaky quality of the images that were made is part of the creator’s magic touch.

It was certainly a show that divided the small group of friends I spoke with afterwards. Some loved it, one saying it was the best show she had ever seen, that it was everything she wanted a piece of theatre to be. Others were more like me, critical of its earnestness. But I bet we will talk about it again.

Melbourne Festival – reviews (3)

This was probably an ambitious thread to start. From now on my comments on the shows I’ve seen will be brief.

Daniel Kitson – C90

This was a show I liked a lot. Kitson is an engaging performer, weaving stories and characters and setting the scene with skill in this one-man show about a man’s last day working in an archive of compilation tapes. The set was gorgeous – a tall set of shelves piled high with tapes, and a ladder on railings that could slide along the width of the shelving – which Kitson did with much grace.

It was a heart-warming story too. At the close of the show Kitson reappeared to invite us to come to the stage in order to inspect the set more closely. The labels on all the tapes were intriguing and beguiling – suggesting love lost, hopes for rekindling, requests for forgiveness, tributes and revenge. Apparently the show tours no more after this Melbourne season, and the set will stay here.

Jerome Bel – The Show Must Go On

My favourite show in the Festival so far! The whole night had a touch of surreality about it, and this framed the show perfectly. The audience and their reactions to this piece (which starts with a darkened stage and a guy sitting at a sound desk down the front playing individual tracks from CDs, one after the other, with gaps in between while he took out one CD and put in the next) were part of the show. Very John Cage in that respect.

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Opening night of ‘Hunger’

We opened last night to a full house. After such a long creative journey together it is very, very satisfying to finally be able to share the work. The audience last night was a mix of colleagues, friends, family – also reviewers! Today we have a matinee and an evening performance, same again on Wednesday.

Kate, (Rawcus director)  has arranged for the whole company to eat together before the show, so yesterday afternoon around 5pm we all sat down together at long trestle tables and tucked into a delicious lunch of hot food and salads. It’s a tradition that Kate brings with her from her work in theatre in France, she said, and feels like it will be a very affirming way for the Company to bond and experience together the performance season.

Yesterday The Age printed an interview with Kate, Paul (one  of the Rawcus performers) and me. You can read it here.

I’ll post reviews when we get them. If you are reading this and have seen the show – please leave comments!

Musicircus planning

This Friday (two days after the Hunger season finishes) the MSO ArtPlay Ensemble will perform a new piece in the Melbourne Festival’s Musicircus. We will meet at 3pm at ArtPlay, and perform that evening, not long after the event begins at sunset. (Performances will continue throughout the night – until sunrise!)

I have a group of 30:

  • 12 who are currently members of the Main Ensemble (with whom I last worked in September)
  • 8 who are members of the Graduate Ensemble (with whom I worked on the Note To Self puppet project)
  • 2 siblings who play instruments
  • 8 family members who are not bringing an instrument
  • 1 professional violinist who will be assisting me (Mel, who works with me at the Language School).

Things I would like to happen during the performance:

  • Something tonal and memorable that everyone takes part in (singing if no instrument)
  • A section based on the ‘Walking, standing, sitting’ score that I used in September and with the AYO people, using set pitches.
  • Something that involves chance or random processes on the day, that might involve the newspapers or mobile phones I have asked participants to bring with them.
  • I might use the idea of unpacking and packing up of instruments ( also used in September, that worked beautifully).

Ideas for the mobile phones, newspapers, and notebooks and pen:

  • I could ask each of the adults to set their alarms to ring at key intervals; each time one rings, the next section of music starts.
  • The newspapers could be read aloud, starting very quietly, then getting louder. This could happen with the whole ensemble, away from instruments. Perhaps the rule could be that they must be newspapers from that day.
  • Notebooks being written in could be a cue for a solo during  the ‘Walking, Standing’ score.
  • We could have a chorus of mobile phone rings.
  • Members of the ensemble could call each other, and have a conversation. “I can’t talk now – I’m just in the middle of something.”
  • The newspapers being read, or held in different ways, could be what the musicians respond to in the “Walking, standing” score – for example, turning a page means a change of pitch. Standing up to read is a different pitch or musical gesture, as is folding the newspaper and tapping it into your hand.

I’ll add to this during the week. I don’t expect I’ll finalise the plan until Thursday or maybe even Friday morning. A main concern will be the use of time on the day – I don’t want to exhaust the group, but I do want us to create something that could last for 15 minutes. When we perform in the space there won’t be any other groups close by us, which is good – we’ll have a lot of sound-space to work within.

Melbourne Festival – reviews (1)

In between rehearsals for my own show, I have managed to see quite a few others in the Melbourne International Arts Festival. Here are my thoughts (quite perfunctory) on the shows I have seen:

The Temptation of Saint Anthony

I saw this on opening night. It is a music-theatre piece in a kind of gospel-inspired style, but directed by Robert Wilson so with his trademark slowness of movement and beautiful simplicity of design. Musically, it was lovely. The singing was just stunning. But I found it hard to follow the narrative (the diction was often quite indistinct) and, being unfamiliar with the story, was not sure what was going on much of the time. A lot of the stage action seemed a little contrived, frankly. In my cruelest moment, the words, “A bit too rock eisteddfod” flashed through my mind. I felt a little sacrilegious at that, so banished the words (until now). The show felt like it took a long time to get moving. It was quite static, both musically and dramatically, for a long time. It opened with some some quite beautiful bamboo sculptures, both on stage and being carried by a procession of cast members as they entered the space singing. It had a strong sense of ritual and emotion in the opening, but then the sculptures disappeared, not to reappear again, and the pace of the show took a long time to pick up.

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Final countdown

And today we had our dress rehearsal. We started the day by going through a couple of scenes where there were some new lighting cues to be noted, then we started our run.

Like yesterday, but even more so, the who has a strong shape and momentum now. It feels like lots of the hesitancy and slowness of yesterday’s scene transitions has gone, replaced by swiftness and no slackening of tempo. The cast is growing in confidence. “I feel like we are in a good place now,” the director told me happily, as we walked to the production meeting at the end of rehearsal.

Today we also made up, which also helps people to get in character and respond authentically to others’ characters in the space. Cupid had wings added to his costume today, and he is delighted!

We are still having difficulty with one of our pieces. Ensemble-wise, it can easily feel shaky – a bit of a house of cards. It is driven very much by the cello, but our cellist is  playing from a balcony behind us at that point in the show. We have great foldback, but somehow it is still tricky to keep together. Also, most of our cues for section changes in the piece come from the stage action, so when we practise out of context we have to contrive the timings of these changes ourselves. We finished our rehearsal today working on it again, finding musical solutions to the main issues, and happily resolving our concerns somewhat. Our next chance to run it will be in Monday’s dress rehearsal, which is open to a small audience.

Hunger has been such a rich experience for me. There are so many aspects of the show and the production that have been new for me, and indeed, I am usually only one step (or half-step) ahead of the musicians at any one time – and it has been that way through the whole year! I often encourage the MSO musicians to feel brave about stepping out of comfort zones, reminding them of the great and exciting things that can happen when take risks, and have to trust our instincts and responses. In most of my MSO projects I am working in a context that is familiar for me, and while I deliberately set about challenging myself in all of the projects, I am still somewhat in a comfort zone. In Hunger I am constantly having to put myself out there, be courageous, trust my instincts, watch and learn and absorb all the information that I can. It is a very, very good thing for me.

Tomorrow (Sunday) is a day of rest. Much anticipated, and much needed by the whole ensemble, I think. Come Monday, we will be refreshed and geared up, ,reading to share our beautiful heart-felt, heart-filled work with a wide audience.

Final rehearsals

Hunger is in the homestretch now. Today we had our Tech Run. There have been a few unforeseen delays leading up to today (when I arrived I got the impression something a bit unexpected/alarming had been narrowly averted the night before… it may have been narrowly done so, but averted nonetheless!) But what is amazing is the number of things that need to be in place – the many technical requirements, people, final designs for lights and sound, the gear in place for these, staging assistants, and their assistants… for a show of this size, with this many performers, and complex staging. One delay, in one area, can place all sorts of pressure on other aspects of the show. Similarly, the content of Hunger is also filled with intricate connections. The run-through today was somewhat clunky – as you would expect, given it was our first Tech Run and there was a lot to adjust to. But also exciting, because with sound, lights and costumes all in, we are getting a strong sense of the show, and of the beautiful material that we have created.

Gillian's stage position at the start of the show - it begins with the musicians asleep, slowly woken up by a dancer.

Gillian’s stage position at the start of the show – it begins with the musicians asleep, slowly woken up by a dancer.

I have a gorgeous dress to wear. I can’t help but swish my way through the space, in my long circular skirt, with its black flower motif and rustling taffeta. The fabric is frail and threatens to give way, as this dress is an original from the 1930s (they tell me), with a pin-tucked bodice, black velvet buttons, and leg-o-mutton sleeves to my elbows. I drape the skirt about me as I sit on the side of the musicians’ stage, and ensure it falls elegantly to the floor when I sit on the piano stool. I feel like a girl in her first ballet frock. I’m a dag, I know.

It’s an exciting process to be part of – kind of thrilling and terrifying at the same time. At this stage I realise I am starting to feel nerves set in. Will my hands shake? That is the one thing I feel I can’t control so easily. And if they shake, will I make mistakes in my piano part, or my vibraphone part? These are the instruments I feel less secure in.

The musicians from MSO seem happy with the work, and proud of the show. Costumes, make-up and lights are all pretty special for orchestral musicians, who usually keep themselves more in the background in order to bring the music they play to the fore. I think that like me, they are particularly enjoying seeing the show come to life, from its typewritten structure, set out under headings, with short descriptions of the action that takes place. As it comes to life, it starts to flow, and build a momentum of its own.

Tomorrow we have our first dress rehearsal. A small group of supportive people will come to our final dress rehearsal on Monday. After that, we open our season!

Collaboration with ESL teachers

Last term one of my readers suggested I could set about building projects around work that my colleague teachers might already have underway in the classroom, as a way of encouraging further follow-through and reinforcement of some of the music-literacy tasks I have been developing.

It came as a timely reminder. I feel this is an approach I have tried before, and found frustrating in the lack of time there was available to properly plan with teachers, or communicate effectively about current work and goals for the class. We try, and have tried, but despite loads of good will and efforts, a true collaboration often proved elusive.

This term at the Language School I cannot teach up until the end of term (because I am going overseas – yee ha!). This means I won’t be around to lead the end-of-term performances that are such a significant and much-loved part of the term’s work.

Therefore, the teachers and I have concocted a plan – I will set about creating performance projects with the students that the teachers can continue when I am gone, that they will take through to the end of term. I need to plan composition tasks that take the teachers’ current skills into consideration, build in some in-class opportunities for teachers to lead and develop their musical skills, and work with material that is suitable for visiting in class by the teachers, during the week.

I have asked each teacher to select a book for their class to focus on for their music composition work – a book that was interesting enough to be read over and over again, and that contained useful literacy goals and vocabulary for the students. In the first week of term the books were chosen, and yesterday I started working with text from the books.

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Music projects from texts

Yesterday I was at the Language School, and got the three classes I am working with this term (Lower, Middle and Upper Primaries) going on their new project for this term – building compositions from books. I suggested to each teacher that they choose a book that has a lot of staying power with their class, that we could use as source material for composition work. I am imagining we will try:

  • Setting some of the text to music, or finding fun musical ways to ‘sing’ the book;
  • Building chants and rap from words or phrases from the text (not necessarily in order, or in context)
  • Creating music that responds in some way to the images in the books.

Many of the students who have had little prior schooling (due to growing up in war-torn countries or refugee camps) may struggle to remember the alphabet, but can remember whole songs word-perfectly (in English). I want to see if approaching a text through music, using different tactics including mnemonics, assists them in their reading, oral language, and word recognition. The three teachers have been wonderfully responsive to this idea and by the end of yesterday we had a book for each class. Each one offers some kind of vocabulary and emotional content that is appropriate for the age group.

Books chosen: The Very Hungry Caterpillar (with its wonderful vocab of days of the week, numbers and food); Brown Bear, Brown Bear What Do You See? which lists different colours and animals and has a gentle rhythmic repetition to it; and Whoever you are, by Mem Fox, which has a strong affirmative message of diversity and common humanity, as well as some phrases that are crying out to be sung!

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