Camila Fiori – After Nuestra CASA Scratch Night 2013

Monday, October 28th, 2013

“How will you develop your piece after this night? What is your next step? Do you think this experience is helping you develop as an artist? If so, how?”

Whoosh – and it’s gone! And what a brilliant festival it was – packed to the seams with Latin treats and closed with some incredible Afro-Andean jinga! It’s been wonderful to be part of it and I come away with several special memories and new openings.

The scratch offered an invaluable opportunity to get some of my ideas on their feet, and having a space and focused framework within which to play, I could begin freeing up my pages of text for Lara and Manuela to emerge. And it’s only really in front of an audience that a piece can live and breathe, so that first encounter was fantastic and the start of an exciting journey!

The three days rehearsal space CASA’s offered were at their current ‘casa’ (home), with the crew down the corridor, buzzing away and hatching festival plans at their desks, which gave me an immediate sense of being part of something. Creating in an environment where we were all on countdown in preparation for the following week felt much more like a ‘residency’ than being stranded out in a room with no-one else around and I miss it already! Trying to work at home ends up being largely restricted to sitting at my laptop, and as a maker, I find that can lead to a disconnect between the words and my body. Although I’ve always written, my background in theatre is primarily as a performer, so what I create comes from my body as well as the words. It needs the physical space to grow – doesn’t need to be huge but somewhere separate from my domesticity and outside my own four walls!

Being my first experience of writing a play which I perform, and also a play for one, making a piece for the scratch was for me, a way of physically testing out what my process with that is. It’s so different to writing and performing my poetry, or devising the kind of pieces I’ve created on my own before – often more physical using fragments of text and non-linear narrative, or durational performances and installation-based pieces. It’s also totally different to working with a script by another writer, or devising a piece with other actors. And, as with any creative, it’s exciting and scary and messy! Play is integral to that, and play isn’t neat.

This was also the first time Anthony and I had the chance to properly work together and get a sense of each other’s process. On one of the three days, each artist/company also had their festival mentor join them, and having a new person in the space and an extra set of eyes was invaluable. When working out what I’m going to write I often talk to myself, or hear the voices(!) and words in my head. Sounding that out is vital but on my own at home I tend to get stuck with words on a screen once I start writing, so a large part of having a space and even more, working with someone in a space, is being able to improvise around my ideas. I find that really helpful as a performer – even if the script is fully formed – and it seems it’s an essential part of my process as a writer too. Anthony tends to work directly a set script, and while following the text was getting good results at times, for me something felt a bit stuck initially, and I knew I wasn’t accessing what I could. The more I did it the more I wanted to mess it up, and it soon became clear that my ‘playwriting’ process is in part about finding words through playing, freeing up the actual text and feeling what works. My mentor – Malu – comes from a more devised background too so was able to help support that need for a messier approach, and in improvising completely free of the text, Anthony could see me work in a different way, complementing what we’d started. We all grew from that – Lara and Manuela included!

That morning, when improvising Manuela’s scene, I ended up cutting straight to the darkest part, and what emerged was raw and guttural. I went to places I’d not felt able to on paper. Some of what came out was more than what I wanted to present to an audience. But it meant I ended up introducing Manuela in a very different way to how I’d planned, cutting immediately to a dark and physically restricted place whereas the first scene I’d written for her was much lighter, domestic and flirtatious.

As mentioned in my previous blog, the structure of this piece was inevitably different to the full-length play but it was also a great exercise in trying to cut to the core. Malu’s advice was to create a fifteen minute ‘theatrical trailer’, and though I was worried that in by-passing some crucial twists I’d be revealing things too quickly, and that in having to pair the humour and a lot of the detail right back to make space for both characters something would be lost, I think it was the right choice to create a strong and clear piece that could cross both worlds and present some key connections between them. I was also really glad to get the feedback that it seems Lara and Manuela did manage to capture and surprise the audience afterall, even with things revealed so instantly. The transformation from one character to the other also seemed to work and that was initially something I’d not been sure how to find, so a real relief. I’m yet to have my one-to-one feedback session with Malu and hear the audience’s written feedback, but the group session was super helpful.

Now I want to play with the full arc of Lara’s journey, and in parallel, her mother Manuela’s. I am going to look again at the full dramaturgical structure and journey plot of each of these characters, as there is so much to try and fit into one play. Malu has suggested I have to choose which of the two stories I’m telling, and her dramaturgical experience has been really helpful. There is certainly too much to fit everything in but in a sense, though I feel it’s primarily Lara’s story I’m telling, I’m still tied to Manuela’s, and it’s the relationship – or lack of – between them that I believe is key. Selecting which parts to show and re-mapping out the actions they take, now with the experience of what I’ve learnt from this first stage, I hope to build a clearer frame to play on. I’ve got lots to work with and am really looking forward to developing the piece and building the contrasts between the two worlds. I totally agree with Daniel’s feedback of pushing Lara’s humour further and making her more lippy Londoner in contrast to Manuela. In his words ‘The Del Monte joke is the way to go for Lara!’ I also want to play with the contradictions and contrasts within each of the characters as well, which have more space to emerge over the course of a full-length piece.

The decision to use this wonderful opportunity as a space to create something from scratch from the material I had, rather than work on something I had planned, was definitely an uncertain and potentially risky one, but I’m so glad I did as it’s challenged me in new ways and apart form being a fantastic experience, I’ve learnt so much from it. It was such a relief and pleasure to finally get into a space to play and build and I’m really grateful for that.

It was also brilliant to work with a musician in this way for the first time, and definitely something I want to develop. John and I had very little time together and it was also a first for him to work with an actor/writer. But already in working through my rough ideas for sound and John offering compositions based on that, we began to develop a dialogue between the sounds and nuances of Lara and Manuela’s actions and emotions. His instrumentals brought something truly beautiful, helping to bridge between the two worlds and subtly emphasise shifts in the piece. With more time there’s a lot we could do. Funds and space to support this and enable us to find time for development will also be really important so any offers are more than welcome!

Pati the lighting technician was also lovely, and though we had limited time together, it was fantastic to get Lara’s Peckham bedsit lit so she could come out and play! Lighting was particularly important in accentuating the contrasts between Lara and Manuela’s worlds but also the contrasts within Manuela’s world – between Villa Grimaldi (the torture centre), and her life in clandestine with a newborn Lara.

There are several things I’ve got coming up in the next few months and a couple will be opportunities for developing the piece. In December I’ll be at the Tristan Bates Theatre as part of a ‘Women In The Arts’ festival, and I’m hoping to ‘scratch’ the itch a little more there! Anthony’s also offered me some space at Open Ealing this week where I can go and be on my own in a studio to have a play and see what comes. This past post-festival week has been admin-heavy and I’m gradually chipping away at the mini-mountain of things built up throughout September! As time and space allows, the journey begins to take the play to its next stage…

So for now, thank you soooo much once again to all the CASA crew and to all the wonderful people I met and had the pleasure of playing and sharing with, listening and talking to, watching and growing from.

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