We’ve just spent a mind-boggling week at the National Theatre, workshopping ideas for our new show, Tales from Nowhere. Well, it was more like trying to get to grips with what the show might be… and as in all useful r&d moments, many things got turned on their head, initial ideas were shattered and exciting new possibilities emerged.
We were working with a wonderful group of actors, and Ben, our fantastic writer/dramaturge was also with us. Our main challenge was to work out how the source material can exist on the stage; how to take the incredible wealth of characters and situations that Buida presents us with and work them into something coherent for the audience. Within the short time we had, I can safely say that we didn’t arrive at any conclusions as far as this challenge was concerned! We were able to see some of the things that we didn’t want to put onto the stage, and we clarified and defined the reasons for the difficulties we were having. We were able to discover/create the theatrical world in which our story can take place, which we’re very excited about. It feels different to the worlds that we’ve created previously, but, according to those who saw our little ‘showing’ at the end of the week, it still remains quintessentially theatre O.
It seems to me that we need to be freer with the source material than we previously thought. One of the joys (and nightmares) of devising theatre, is the huge, sweeping turns that the process can take; turns, u-turns, switch-backs and complete circles… The most important thing is that we all felt that we had taken some big steps forward – we still don’t know where the path is leading us as there is still a dense fog-bank up ahead – but it feels like we have oriented ourselves in a good direction and that when the fog does clear, we will be surrounded by a rich and exciting landscape. Right, enough of that pretentious metaphor…
One of the things that is shaping this project is an awareness of the lack of resources that are available to project funded (or non-funded) companies. We’re interested in making a show that as far as possible, makes use of what’s available and doesn’t get involved in the building and making of expensive and short-lived sets etc. This is not purely a practical consideration (we don’t know yet if we’ll be successful in raising the money to make the show) – it is also driven by the themes of the source material – it is about displaced people (or person) who are trying to define themselves in their rootlessness by telling/creating stories about their past. In 1945 the entire German population of a town in East Prussia, where their families had been rooted for 700 years, were told to up and leave by the Soviet authorities (who had just gained control of the town thanks to the shift of borders post-war) – they were allowed to take 20 kilos of luggage with them, (what would you take)? The town was then re-populated by Russians from all over the Soviet Union (mainly political ‘undesirables’) who found themselves surrounded by the belongings, family portraits, cooking utensils, wall-paper etc. of those who had just left, and within that they had to make a life that was their own. But without any roots they, in turn, have drifted away. There is something of theatre in this – these short lived moments where spaces are inhabited by stories which then move on, to be replaced by new stories. What am I trying to say? I think this paragraph started because I wanted to say something about the importance of being able to spend time in a rehearsal room developing ideas – for a devising company like theatre O, this is our writing process – it is an essential way of developing a project so that it can be as exciting and as surprising as possible – there is an enormous difference between the outcome of project written by one person and something that has been a true collaborative process – one is not better than the other, and both are valid as ways of creating new work, new ‘writing’. It’s not an easy task for a devising company to find the resources to develop work before it goes into the final rehearsal/creation process – it is often seen as a luxury, as something decadent – but it’s absolutely crucial if the final piece is going to fulfil its potential. We’re extremely grateful to the National Theatre and to Purni at the Studio for making this possible, because without it we would simply not be able to continue to create new work.
We’re not sure what the next step will be (other than waiting to hear the result of our funding application)!, but we hope to get one more week of development before we go into rehearsals (hopefully in the Spring). Fingers crossed!