“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.
writes Tamsin Clarke
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?
So the festival has been and gone in a flurry of exciting theatre, fun workshops and friendly people – all topped off with lots of beers and bum wiggling to fine Latin music. What a hoot!
The stress and nerves from the scratch night on Monday seems long gone, transformed instead into feelings of excitement and anticipation. Manuela took the stage with her hearty musician and she came alive. She popped out of my head and off the page, out through my words and into the lights – and it was truly exhilarating.
I am and I guess I always will be, a performer at heart. Writing is fun but for me there is really nothing like being on stage. And for that reason it was so nice to be up there with my creation and enjoy it. The audience were incredibly generous and the whole thing felt like magic. My relationship with Jamie developed so sweetly onstage – there was no way of predicting or rehearsing for such a genuine encounter. The moment of the blackout at the end I desperately wanted to continue. I knew there was so much more in my head that I wanted to share.
And so it is back to writing I go. I am going to get stuck into finishing the script; ready with new ideas and thoughts that came from the 15-minute performance as well as the great feedback I received from participants, organisers and audience members afterwards. Once that has been written, ripped apart, re-written and eventually finalized, the plan is to get together with Jamie again and start rehearsing it early in the New Year. Then we will see how we get on. Ideally, I would like to translate it into Spanish and take us off to South America to perform it for a Latin audience. Maybe Edinburgh?
We’ll see what happens.
What I can say with absolute certainty is that having the opportunity to put together 15 minutes for the CASA festival scratch night and getting the chance to perform it at RichMix to a smiling bunch of people, was a huge leap forward in the development of this project. I would still be sitting behind my computer typing away if it hadn’t been for this festival. The support from my wonderful mentor Malu Ansaldo was invaluable and I’m really looking forward to staying in touch and working with the whole CASA team in the future.
Any opportunity to perfect your craft and do what you love will always help you develop as an artist-so gracias CASA for this chance.
Developing DWELL IN during this month has been very inspiring. It really fascinates me how a small idea can grow in the process of making it, as one encounters so many questions and possibilities while filming, editing, and rehearsing. I’m very happy with the result of what I’m showing on Monday, it’s indeed a great opportunity and a challenge for me to perform and communicate my work to a new audience and I’m really looking forward to it.
Within the work I think I still have much more to develop, starting with the technical side of the work which could be more precise and polished. I have also been thinking in the possibility of including another element and another action to this piece. I thought about the use of voice as well, something I never did. I have to say that the more I experiment the more I discover new ways of expressing myself and communication my ideas.
This next Monday will be the first time I will be performing at a theatre space and it’s a great challenge that I’m totally up to. My idea of space has always been one of an immersive place where the audience enters and experiences my action from a very close and involved position. (At my previous piece, THE SHELL, I put 2.500kg of soil on the space floor, where the audience had to walk. There was the smell of it, its instability and it was dark and cold, as I had an air conditioner on as well). However, for DWELL IN I’ve done subtle changes due to the fact that I’ll be on stage myself and the audience will be seated in front of me. I have focused on how my work can still be intense and engaging within this context and I know for sure that, through this experience, I will discover something new about this, especially from the audience’s feedback.
Working with Sarah (my development mentor) has helped me a lot to reflect about my practice from a new perspective. A perspective which has driven me to re-think my practice and my goals as an artist too. She has an amazing energy and knowledge that have helped me develop my Dwell in with more trust and to push forwards my goals as an artist. Thank you!
“What has been your approach on the material so far and how have you been developing your piece until now? What resources or techniques do you use? Basically, how do you define your work and how do you do it?”
The approach to the material so far has been creation through devising by using techniques/methodologies such as improvisation, Anne Bogart’s viewpoints, imagination, miming, Meisner techniques, and clowning. From the very start, the approach was nourished by articles I read and footage I did on runaways, e.g. clowning children performing at traffic lights in Mexico City and at the border of Tijuana and the US. The first day of rehearsal started off with theatre games, but quickly moved on to clowning and miming. With clowning and miming, the performers created their new personas and played around with scenarios, before gradually adding and improvising text. The piece is like a movie trailer with backdrops of pictures projected and audience members completing the world of the clown’s performance.
Props and physicality were utilized as the first layer of the payaso. This is where the language and emotion live, then the words filter through. The most unusual part of the process though was to take the rehearsal into the actual, real-life environment of the characters, that is to rehearse around a set of traffic lights on a busy street in London.
Music is a significant element of my piece because it structures the emotion behind the story. The humming in the beginning tells the story of a child’s innocence. It is carried on throughout the piece as it is accompanied by the movements that were created by the actors while using Anne Bogart’s technique called viewpoints. The dance was choreographed using repetition and combining different repetitive movements. One actor begins with one repetition then changes it into another. These movements from different sessions were first isolated and then strung together again to deliver an actual structured dance. The created sequence delivers a story when performed while humming the nursery rhyme “Itsy Bitsy Spider”. The choreography tells a story that is enlivened with deep emotional content, including the main character’s internal monologue. This story deals with escapism from one’s parents and children facing certain circumstances and developing coping mechanisms.
Another layer in creating this piece is using the actor’s impulses during the delivery of text. This text is used along with the physical tension of breaking the forth wall. The audience is used as part of the world that is created as an aside, or to complete the circle that is where the clown performs. After developing the script through improvisation by using images and scenarios, it is then transformed into actual spoken text and written down. Additionally, emotional landscape and pace of the journey are looked at closely. The intonation of language and voice with all its physical components is used with and without text, which gives it its emotional journey through the piece. These elements are then combined and flushed out to be performed.
Since my research trip to South America back in May, I have been writing and writing. Sat in front of a computer, surrounded by books, papers, recordings and photos. Scribble, scribble, here and there, little yellow post it notes all over the place. Re-living the life of this brilliant woman through my own words and phrases. I could’ve kept scribbling for months. Possibly even years.
So it was a wonderful spanner in the works to get accepted for the Nuestra CASA Scratch Night – it gave me a goal to work towards and an opportunity to get Manuela out of my head and onto the stage. The 15 minutes allowance was a great way to strip my ramblings down to a concise narrative with a clear focus, something that my Nuestra CASA mentor, Malú Ansaldo, helped me with from our first meeting.
The first day of rehearsals was strange. Lonely. As I am short of a director, it was just me, my props, my script, my flask of tea and a very empty room. Such a difference from my last project, which had me in an enormous warehouse with 13ft high scaffolding and 7 people with whom to warm up and share a cuppa. But the solitariness was productive. I tried out lots of ideas – my chair and me dancing around the room. I had no one to tell me if they were any good, of course, but sometimes that’s not such a bad thing.
Luckily, for the second day of rehearsals I had some company. Jamie Doe, my musician, was there with his trusty guitar and accordion, as well as Malú, my mentor, who was an invaluable outside eye for the day. We played around with what I had come up with, broke it up, chatted about it and re-formed it, this time accompanied with some gorgeous (at times extremely amusing) music improvised by the wonderful Jamie. I felt like Manuela was really starting to take shape. Through our shared thoughts and productive input she was becoming a collective creation. And it felt great.
What has been your approach on the material so far and how have you been developing your piece until now? What resources or techniques do you use? Basically, how do you define your work and how do you do it?
Stripping, selecting, moulding, mining, pacing…
My approach with this piece has been part of a new working process, and has also been different to my approach with the longer-term project and ideas for the full-length play. As I mentioned in last week’s blog, I see this 15minute work-in-progress for the CASA Scratch, as a separate ‘piece’ to the play itself. In trying to shape something that stands on its own but points towards the whole, the pacing and structure is very different, so the process of selecting and creating material also changes.
Because the story moves between generations and countries, selecting the best moments, structure and points of reveal in a ‘full-length’ production already means having to make bold choices, so in fifteen minutes, the choice of what to show –
how much, at which point and whether through aspects that are driven more by
dialogue, physical action, sound or visuals – is both challenging and a really useful exercise. For me this opportunity has been and continues to be, as I’ve only had one day in the rehearsal space so far, one of ‘R&D’ rather than polishing something I already have. Saying that, with only three days in a space I have to balance that with refining the piece, and by the mid-end of afternoon tomorrow (second day), I plan to have the piece formed so that the third day is for working into it and refining… Let’s see! I applied with the sense that in having the right space, support and framework within which to be able to look at all the material I have and to play around with just a few of the ideas in a short time period, I would be choosing to put myself in a position of necessary constraints so as to make things happen. So it’s a case of stripping away, selecting, moulding, and writing/devising specifically for the purpose of shaping a ‘taster.’ While crossing both Lara’s world (London 2013) and Manuela’s world (Santiago circa ’73-5/6), I aim to capture some of the key links between them without trying to give a synopsis of the whole play.
Since being offered the residency and before getting into the rehearsal space, I have been looking at all the pages and pages of text – mainly prose but also some poetry – interconnected vignettes… dialogue… notations for action, play-with-spacing… images… sounds… and a few key props(!), and mining through to pick out the kernels of the piece. While on one hand I have a clear sense of it, another part of me feels I am really still working that out – as the creative process needs to be; a discovery. Having too many ideas and too much material is something I tend to find harder than none at all. It is often the selection process, decision making and letting go of what might be the best or strongest ideas in terms of the overall piece, to what are the ideas that will best serve the task at hand, is often where I get muddled – so having this sort of framework is invaluable.
I’m always interested in the dynamic between audience and performer, and when it’s just one wee bod on a stage, it becomes another way of relating to the audience than when working with other actors. I like to acknowledge the audience, and their complicity in the piece – for me that’s the buzz of live work.
‘Defining’ my practice… ‘Making’…
In terms of ‘defining’ my practice generally, as a performer with a background in theatre, dance and visual arts, my work takes several forms – both in terms of the pieces I make myself and creative projects I collaborate on. My background is in ‘making’ – be that visually, ‘sculpturally’ through movement and body or installation, or with text.
Alongside making my own pieces, I work as an actress in other productions, either devised as part of an ensemble or scripted plays/films written by others, where, depending on the project, I’m not necessarily so involved in the creative development. But I do that less often as it’s the creative process that really drives me.
…is something I’ve always done, but using it in my creative work has been more recent, and for the past few years it has increasingly become the primary ‘material’ I work with. Most of the pieces I’ve written and performed have been poetry, and although I’ve written a couple of short plays for others to perform, this is the first time I am writing full-length script-based piece.
Play and exploration…
I find each of my projects find their own process by allowing story or concept to drive and shape them. Having trained in each of the art forms separately and then in the less ‘box-able’/tangible process of combining them, play and exploration are at the heart of what gets my juices flowing, and when I feel stuck I try to remember that. In a sense, I believe in always being open to exploration in the making, while drawing on a set of tools and techniques (which are always being refined/developed), and very importantly, maintaining the ‘juice’ of ‘you-ness’, or ‘me-ness’ – the ‘bricks and mortar’ or core qualities that make each person’s work their own; the vein that runs through it all, whatever form it takes.
A lot of my work is cross-disciplinary and I’m often drawn to the murky ‘in-between’ spaces: form matching content as I find myself returning to themes of displacement, boundaries, gaps and cross-overs between cultures, languages, audience and performer, the(un)/(mis)spoken-word.
Even when writing the starting point is usually sensory or more ephemeral/conceptual, so in a way the source is still the body or link between instinct and brain, which can’t really be defined within the limits of language, never-mind that which is lost between languages when working inter-culturally. Sometimes words get in the way of my instinct to work from the body and voice, and while I love writing, finding the right balance between making as a performer and making as a writer is a process I am learning and varies from piece to piece. Not having a regular ‘space’ to play in, I tend to opt for desk but even find playing on paper is often more freeing than on my laptop because of the kinaesthetic process of shape making through my arm rather than my digits! (She says sitting at laptop two-finger typing!!)
Accepting the word-nerd in me…
Although I had used fragments of text I’d written in previous devised pieces when I was doing a lot of movement-based work and video installation several years ago, really using my writing as creative material was not something I did until I finally realised/accepted that the boxes, drawers and shelves full of scrawled wordy ‘bits’ I’d been gathering all my life were – in the words of the individual who eventually convinced me, and of the word-wielder that is Stephen Fry – ‘not normal’!… Long story (not-so)short(!), I found myself unexpectedly put on the spot with a one-night deadline to write and perform a piece in front of a panel, after which I had to perform it on the radio. So, realising it might not all be gibberish, I began to commit to it more though still not enough or with the necessary discipline, partly due to other acting and unrelated work. After a push in the right direction from a director who liked some bits, I performed some material for the first time, hid away again for a year or so, and then really began thanks to another director who ran a regular sketch, comedy and spoken-word night and had me doing my first proper poetry gig. Gradually this began to develop, and I’ve done several since.
But although my work has crossed over into the ‘poetry scene’, it’s often in a more theatre-based or live-art context. From spoken-word pieces where I’ve been mute, to interactive-installations and performative commissions as my costume-making, quirky head-gear donning nomadic alter-ego – all of which have used poems as the primary material – the pieces are totally different both in process of making and of experiencing as an audience member/participant, to when I stand on a stage with a mic and perform a poem, or send a poem to a reader for them to play on the page.
Boxes and labels
I guess I revel a bit in being able to travel between ‘scenes’ and ‘boxes,’ but in so doing, can find my practice is hard to define! From the National Theatre Watch This Space Festival to the Whitechapel Gallery, Southwark Playhouse to Rio’s streets, I aim to make pieces that encourage integration, question boundaries, and make people think creatively. A lot of my work involves interactive elements, creating spaces for reflection, curiosity and response. While some projects are solo pieces, I also work collaboratively, and often include the public, or audience in the process or the work itself. Theatre is, in my view, for everyone and about everyone.
In writing the previous sub-heading, I noticed ‘boxes’ and ‘labels’ also happen to be props I’m using! For months now I’ve been in engaging in an on-going inner-(and at times outer)-dialogue about ‘things’ or ‘nakedness.’ I often find that the ephemerality of live performance and wonderfully messy process of making it can leave me craving the tangibility of ‘stuff’ and physically creating product or working with props to feel grounded or know I’ve ‘done’ something – even more so as I am working without other performers. That can be where written words come in – either serving well or at times getting in the way. But I have been balancing that with the idea of stripping down to just body and voice (including but not cluttered by spoken word.) It’s finding the right balance both in practical terms (and that includes what each venue is able to accommodate technically/space-wise) but most importantly, in terms of what will best serve the story. I have several other connected ideas (largely visual and sound based)which may or may not be possibilities for exploration in terms of the full production, but for this piece, I’m opting for some key props and simplicity.
Music and Sound…
I’ll be exploring some sound ideas tomorrow with a musician and if it works for the scratch piece, we’ll include some live instrumental elements. But that might be too much, or just very minimal for now.
Seeds and research… Personal and Political…
The original idea began as an extended monologue that was part poetry part prose, but which I then left dormant for a few years for reasons touched on in my last blog entry. The recent events that triggered my re-visiting of the ideas have led me to engage in a process of more intensive research. For several months I have been looking in detail at the background, however it is essentially the personal story that I come back to when considering the play, and that is something I had the seeds of before, though it is continually being refined/formed.
Nevertheless it is in my view essential to do the research (and this is ongoing, particularly this year of the 40th anniversary since the coup), in order to ensure that the piece is totally credible. Not that there is no room for fantasy or artistic license, but for me, that has to be informed by authenticity and, where relevant, historical/social/political understanding of the context. Saying that, when it’s something both of huge interest, historical and current relevance, and also emotional importance, I get easily bogged-down and end up not being able to get through most of the mountains of material I’ve been archiving! Trying to do so has often been holding me back from the creative work and so it’s important to put myself in the situation where I just don’t have the time for all that and have to focus on the creative task at hand.
Being September, it has of course also been a month of many commemorative events, a lot of which I have been involved with, and I feel honoured to have been able to (re)connect with the compañeros of my parents from Chile who are still here in London, and meet many new people in the process. Although this is at the heart of the overall context within which this play is being created, these events, including the night of poetry and music I curated and performed at in June, and the others this month I have been performing at and attending, are not the piece itself, and over the past months I have put so much time and energy into that aspect of research, planning and supporting, personal archiving and discovery, that I have at times not made enough space for the play, while still feeling totally immersed within its subject matter. But the actual ‘grit’ of it – the mother-daughter separation and the cultural split/disconnection, are ‘subject matter’ I live with minute-to-minute, so though the piece I’m making is not at all autobiographical, it’s again about connecting to the wider context though our personal stories…
After being introduced at an arts-centre where we’d both run workshops, Anthony Shrubsall and I began meeting intermittently earlier this year to talk about my ideas for the play. Anthony is a free-lance theatre director, recently working with spoken-word artists on one-person-shows, touring nationally and abroad. He became interested in collaborating after seeing some of my other pieces and invited me to a one-day-masterclass he was running on the director and writer-performer relationship so we could both get a sense of each others practice.
Although the idea for this piece began as an extended monologue/poem, I wanted to be sure that a one-person show was the correct form for it as it is not something I’ve done before. The fact that the central and secondary protagonists are daughter and mother and never meet after early separation, seems to lend itself well to the form. But while I kept considering whether to introduce other performers, Anthony’s enthusiasm for the project and experience in working on one-person shows became instrumental in encouraging me to develop the play in this way. He is joining me in the rehearsal space for most of the three days at CASA.
We had started to look at some of my ideas/fragments for the piece, though much of our time was spent talking about the historical context. Even amongst people with fairly active social consciences and political engagement on a local level, it’s incredible how little is really known here, and across the world generally, about the true horrors of Latin America’s recent past. Yet the role of British Labour movement and Unions at the time was crucial in campaigning to release political prisoners, and put pressure on the increasingly right-leaning government to support the process of giving visas for political exile and supporting the welcoming of refugees from Chile. All that ended with the election of Thatcher, who stood hand-in-hand with her US counterparts – drivers of the neo-liberal ‘experiment’ that brutally ripped through Latin America.
“What has been your approach on the material so far and how have you been developing your piece until now? What resources or techniques do you use? Basically, how do you define your work and how do you do it?”
I have been developing and advancing quite a lot during these past days. Mainly shot the video of what I’m going to project as I have all the equipment and I did it at a space I often use in Hackney Wick. I’m really happy with the result and I’ll work the postproduction of the video in these coming days. I will also design the sound, as my goal is to have all this (image and sound) done at the end of this week so that next week I can rehearse and find the props I’ll use.
I have to say that I’m concerned about the use of the space; this will be the first time I’ll do one of my performances in a theatre. I have always worked in self-designed spaces where I create a very strong sensorial environment. So this is indeed a challenge. How can I make this idea work in a space like a theatre? This is on what I will definitely work on this next week when rehearsing.
What I’m questioning myself now is: should I include text in the work? Where should I place myself on stage? How close to the audience will be the best for the strength and intention of this idea? Proximity is always something I have in mind when I perform. I like to be close to people, to be able to look at them, to connect, and proximity gives a much stronger level of engagement.
This week has been all systems go for getting “O Rey” on the road. Great meeting with our mentor Sarah to chat through the project and how best to use our time together. We have been in contact with Marcos Santana, who is a phenomenal Brazilian percussionist from Salvador de Bahia. Ed Hughes and I went to a practice session with Marcos’ group last Saturday and played with the Brazilian group for 2 hours, which ended up being pretty therapeutic (I recommend it to everyone), as hammering a drum for 2 hours lets go of all the tension. I made a mental point to take ear plugs next time, as they took a pounding and I couldn’t hear properly for a few hours. After the session we sat down with Marcos and put a plan of action together for rehearsals, piecing the final members of the company together. There are always moments in bringing together a project when you think it will never happen, but somehow (often by divine intervention), you manage to find the perfect people you need. I am constantly reminded of the wisdom of Hannibal from the A-Team: “I love it when a plan comes together”.
Rehearsals begin in earnest on Saturday. It is always a great moment when people from all different backgrounds meet each other for the first time and you stand back and see a group begin to bond. This is almost the most satisfying moment for us; you start with an abstract image in your heart which forms slowly into a concrete idea and opens up into a group of performers who bring all their talent and love to the piece that you imagined on your own. It feels like alchemy sometimes.
Putting the romantic in me to one side, it’s time to use up my mobile allowance, get making phone calls and send texts to get everyone together for Saturday…
This piece is about the tensions within our mind and body, our inside and our outside, our feelings and what we actually express. I’m a very emotional person, maybe because I’m South American. However, I look very European. I was born in a country with 200 years of history but that land has been there for millions of years before. My grandfather is French, my grandmother is Italian, and my father is the first generation of an Argentinean family. What does this actually makes my-self?
I believe the body is the most nostalgic element, the most vivid, vital, dynamic, powerful and beautiful, one where the past, present and future coexist, where life and death make synthesis, where I can find my fears and hopes, my memories and most important my strength, drive and spirit.
DWELL IN came form a deep need to get hold of my identity, a contradiction that I couldn’t understand at the beginning, that made me feel lost, as I often asked myself: Where do I belong? Which are my roots? The idea of belonging ended up being an illusion for me; it became an open door to discover myself, to discover my own strength and my own sense of belonging within me.
No one else can tell me who I am except myself, as I dwell in my own flesh.
This is why I chose to work with flesh. This material will appear in two forms, a real one and a virtual one. There will be a dialogue between my body and the image of my body, between my own sound and the sound of the image, plus the real piece of flesh and the image of it.
I believe materials are a bridge to communicate, to connect and engage with the audience. I often use natural elements like soil, water, grass, flesh… materials that we all have experienced, some which we all resonate with, allowing transformation to happen.
I first heard about Manuela Saenz from a newspaper article whose title read “Bolivar’s heirs honour ‘harlot of Americas’ “. Now, that sounds intriguing!
The article spoke about “the most famous harlot of the Americas”, Manuela Saenz, who lived and fought alongside the great liberator of the South American continent, Simon Bolivar. She died ostracized from her country and her people for being one of his most ardent supporters.
As I read the story I found myself more and more absorbed. Forgotten in exile in northern Peru, she survived by selling tobacco and translating love letters to the whalers who stopped at the dusty port town. Theatrically romantic, I thought (although, in reality, somewhat tragic). My imagination immediately took me to a stage filled with sand and a lone figure sitting on a wooden barrel. And a cigar, of course. No thought is complete without a smoking cigar.
The article continued: after 200 years she was being posthumously recognized and her symbolic remains were being taken to lie next to those of Simon Bolivar’s in Caracas, Venezuela. “We are going to unite the remains of our liberator with the remains of his immortal companion”. Hmm? Interesting idea. I wonder what she would’ve thought about that. I also wondered why this was being done now? Why was she so forgotten? Was she really a harlot, or just a woman struggling in a difficult patriarchal society? What was there to learn from this historical figure?
So I went to find her. I traveled for six weeks around Colombia, Ecuador and Peru – following the footsteps she made whilst she was alive and seeing the imprint she left on generations of Latin Americans. The memory of this controversial woman was distinct from country to country, city to city, person to person. There were so many stories about her – were they true or false? They often seemed to conflict in one way or another.
What did become clear was that she was pretty incredible – a true legend in her own right.
When I returned and sat down to write I realized I had discovered my own truth about her. One amassed by my accumulation of knowledge, questions, interpretations and imaginations. But there are so many Manuelas. Which one do you pick? Which one would she pick? After all, a legend is as much as you make of it.