Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The Outline

I found diagrams in scripts of the previous plays the Drama Group have performed - suggested sets - they are outlines reminiscent of the blueprints of the church. I started tracing these outlines onto the same page. Layering the suggested sets for different shows. Walls collide. Furniture overlaps. A table on a chair on a bed. I started thinking about tracing the sets onto the same space. This could be the setting for the installation. They remind me of Dogville or the chalk outlines of a body or the aesthetics of experimental theatre. Uninvited Guest's masking taped architecture, The Wooster Group's onstage constructions and Forced Entertainment's crude stages. The promise of the real that fails to deliver. The presence of pretence. A possible dissertation title. The project has now got three strands.

Act One - The Production - The Church on Rise Park
Act Two - The Installation - The Powerhouse
Act Three - The Dissertation - The Critical Review with Interviews

The stage is the set

'In the end, as far as set design went, all we could put on the stage was another stage. Inside the larger building of the theatre, our crude wooden stage on the theatre's own stage, our crude scaffolding and worker's lamps proscenium inside the existing proscenium of the theatre. As if to say: this pretending is our topic.' Tim Etchells - Live Art and Performance

There is no set. There are no costumes. The drama group will be playing themselves. They have recently disposed of the stage blocks they used for 25 years - I wanted to use them for the installation but they were too cumbersome and hazardous to move. They have bought some new staging which will make its 'stage debut' for Acts of Communion. The stage is the set. The setting is the Church Hall.

BETTY Where’s the set

MICHAEL We don’t need a set

AUDREY But why can’t we have one

TONY Because we’ve spent all our money on the stage

IAN So the stage is the set

MICHAEL The play takes place in the church hall

TONY The church hall is the set

HARRY So what happens in the church hall

TONY Weddings

JONATHAN Christenings

IAN Raffles

KATH Funerals [KATH leaves]


The learning of lines

I started thinking about the line learning process. How one of the cast said to me: 'I read the whole play through out loud in front of a tape recorder but the part I've got to learn I read at sotto voce.' I started thinking about the phrase 'sotto voce.'

sotto voce \SAH-toh-VOH-chee\, adverb or adjective:
1. Spoken low or in an undertone, as not to be overheard.
2. (Music) In very soft tones. Used chiefly as a direction.

I started thinking that it represented the notion of absence that I was interested in but was finding it difficult to manifest through the development of two different pieces of work. I started thinking that the way people learn their lines is an interesting experiment in itself - the highlighting - the recording - the listening. I started thinking about recording one part of a play and leaving silence for the rest. I started thinking about recording all the parts of a play but onto different tapes and playing them - either with silence in between cues or triggering manually. I started thinking about recording the stage directions - the words that the writer never meant to be heard - and leaving silence where people speak. I started thinking about how the meaning would become slippery, how images would be conjured up in the space. The space between stage directions and the space in which you were listening. I started thinking about recording the stage directions from all of the plays the drama group have performed onto different tapes and playing them at the same time. I started thinking about the way in which they all end with the line 'The Curtain Falls' and whether they would finish at the same time. I started thinking about placing the tape players on the same stage the drama group will be performing on.

All of this responds to an idea of absence - absence of content, absence of meaning, absence of the writer, absence of the reader, absence of the speaker. It flirts with the philosophical research I have been doing. Logocentrism - the view that speech not writing is the centre of language. Derrida's argument that speech may be a kind of presence, because the speaker is simultaneously present for the listener, but writing may be a kind of absence, because the writer is not simultaneously present for the reader. My experiment would be a recording of a reading of writing (but only the writing that was never meant to be read) read by a speaker who is not present. It also draws interesting parallels with the Arthur Miller text used in The Wooster Groups 'LSD... Just the High Points' where Miller famously forbade the company from 'mangling' his work. In later versions of the show a buzzer replaced his words. None of the plays will be licensed to be read but then none of the words are meant to be. As a writer of plays it interests me to be reading the words of other playwrights. By my reading them within the context of an artwork do they become mine.

These are all questions and observations I am making now at what has become another turning point. I will start recording plays onto tapes - a dying artform onto dying technology - and proceed to experiment in the space. I imagine an installation with tape players on a stage. This could be my final piece with the Church performance more of a 'sideshow' - exploring roles of actor and author, site and self.

I highlighted the script and worked out percentages of lines for each performer. The idea of a 'line audit' indicates how action and speech is spread and perhaps how much absence would be 'present' if one or more performer were 'absent.'

MIC 51 – 8%
AUD 58 – 9%
BET 75 – 12%
TON 83 – 13%
IAN 54 – 9%
JON 48 – 8%
KAT 96 – 15%
LOU 63 – 10%
DON 62 – 10%
HAR 38 – 6%

Saturday, August 19, 2006

The Exposition

Working on image and text for MA Exposition brochure and found press cutting in the drama group archive. There is something Sarah Lucas about this as an image. The staged-ness. The 'forced entertainment.' The direct address of the photographer / audience. It reminds me of the Gob Squad in its kitsch-ness. I like the low art / high art clash between review in local paper and preview in MA brochure. The review comments on the merits of a performance that is by its very nature amateur. The review is probably written by an amateur reviewer. The project too hopes to contribute to this debate. I want to find an image that is both generic and specific about the aesthetic. To hint at the style of the work without prescribing the form of exposition the work will take.

Friday, August 18, 2006

The Conclusion

The first draft is finished. Kath who plays GMOB attends her own funeral as herself. She can't attend it as her deceased character because this is a church drama group and they can't deal with the afterlife. She reads a note she left behind before she died:

To the Church of Rise Park Drama Group. By the time you hear this I will be gone. The show will be over. The curtain will fall. The cast will leave the stage. The audience will leave the building. Nothing will be left but words. Words on a page. A page in a pocket. We’ve been through a lot together in this Church Hall. I’ve been here since the beginning. My initials are on the wall. Weddings. Christenings. Funerals. Plays. We’ve said our thank yous and proposed our toasts. We’ve remembered our pasts and considered our futures. Now nothing is left for me to do. Except ask you to raise your glasses and think of where you have been and where you are going. To thank you for coming and say sorry you are leaving. To say I hope you enjoyed your evening. To wish you a safe journey home. And to tell you the toilets are down the corridor on the left. Then and only then will it be the end of Acts of Communion.

This reminds me of Forced Entertainment's Showtime:

'There's a word for people like you, and that word is audience. An audience likes to sit in the dark and watch other people do it. Well, if you've paid your money - good luck to you. However, from this end of the telescope things look somewhat different - you all look very small and very far away and there's a lot of you. It's important perhaps to remember that there are 'more of you' than there are of us. So, if it does come to a fight, you will undoubtedly win.'

The Introduction

Always found it difficult to initiate the self-referential tone with the drama group. Reworked introduction to a meta-theatrical level. May not work but seems less incongruous than talking about line-learning during the fictional sections. May be better to separate fact from fiction, performers from characters. Also - on a topical note - the group are negotiating the purchase of a new stage but there are some issues over budget and whether they can afford it. Seems appropriate to include it in the text. I have written myself as the writer more into the story. The Drama Group play themselves. The setting is the church. The set is the stage.

Acts of Communion

MC Ladies and Gentlemen. The Church on Rise Park Drama Group present Acts of Communion. The setting - The Church Hall. The time – now. The Drama Group will be playing themselves.

FOB: Tony

BD 1: Donna

BM 1: Jonathan

BD 2: Louise

FOG: Ian

MOG: Audrey

MOB: Betty

GMOB: Kath

C: Harry

MC: Michael

MOB: Table for One was a success

MOG: Yes – good audience tonight

FOG: What happens now?

BD 1: We’re doing the other play

BD 2: The one that starts with us introducing ourselves

FOB The wedding

BM The Christening

GMOB The Funeral

C Sounds like a barrel of laughs

MC I’m a bit worried that it’s not very funny

MOG We can make it funny. We can make anything funny. We made a tragedy funny once.

FOG We’ve never done a tragedy since

C Now that’s a tragedy

FOB It’s always so difficult finding a play that fits

BD 1 It’s always so difficult finding a baby sitter

MOB One where we’ve all got a fair share of lines

BD 2 It’s not worth getting a baby sitter for a walk on part

GMOB That’s all I do – walk on and off.

[GMOB gets up and goes]

BM: What are you doing?

GMOB It says ‘Kath gets up and goes.’ See.

FOG I just have to sit here and look bored

C I haven’t got many lines in this one.

MC I can give you more

C Are you sure?

MC I just did.

FOB I’m not sure about my make up.

MOB It looks good. Old and tired. Just what it says in the script.

FOB I haven’t put any on yet.

MOG How’s my hair?

FOG Great. Where did you get the wig?

MOG: It’s not a wig

BD 1: How do I look?

BD 2: Awful. How do I look?

BD 1: Awful.

BD 1 / BD 2: We’re ready.

FOB / MOB: We’re ready

FOG / MOG: We’re ready

C: I’m ready

[GMOB returns]

GMOB: I’m back

BM 1: I’m having trouble doing up my tie.

[FOG helps BM tie tie]

FOG: That’s all right it says here I’m supposed to help you

BM 1: Thanks Dad

FOG: I’m not your Dad in this. I’m the groom’s dad.

BM 1: Where’s the Groom.

MC He’s not here. But you play him later.

MOB: Sounds very confusing.

FOB: Why can’t you write plays that people understand?

MC I’m trying

GMOB: I’m off again. [GMOB leaves]

C Isn’t it going to be difficult for the audience to follow?

MC No – we’re going to have more scenes like this.

BD 1: So what happens now

BD 2: We introduce ourselves

BM 1: We’ve already done that

FOG: No we introduce our characters

MOG: So who are playing now

MC The Drama Group will be playing themselves.

[GMOB returns]

GMOB: It's just like that show where I had to play six different characters except one of those characters is actually me.

BD 1: I get it

BD 2: I don’t

MOG: So where are we now?

MC: The church hall.

MOB: Whereabouts onstage?

MC: Well you’re pretending to be off stage but you’re actually onstage.

GMOB: I’ve been going off stage a lot recently. Why can’t I stay onstage.

C Because it’s a walk-on part.

MOB: Where’s the set?

MC We don’t need a set.

MOG: But why can’t we have one?

FOB: Because we’ve spent all our money on the stage.

FOG: So the stage is the set.

MC The play takes place in the church hall.

FOB: The church hall is the set.

GMOB: I have to go again [leaves]

C So what happens in the church hall.

FOG Weddings

BM Christenings

MOB Funerals

MC Plays

BM 1 We’ve got an audience.

BD 1 We’ve got a script

MC Has everybody learnt their lines

MOG: I don’t learn my lines until quite near the end.

MOB: I probably do a page at a time

[GMOB enters]

GMOB: If it’s a play where you’re on from start to finish I usually just tape it

[GMOB leaves]

FOB: I read the whole play through out loud in front of a tape recorder

FOG: I have a haphazard approach to learning lines.

BD 1: I read through it on my own for a while then I practise with my Dad

BM 1: Your real dad or your stage dad?

BD 1: I don’t have a stage dad

BM 1: Oh sorry.

BD 2: I’m rubbish at learning my lines. I don’t really look at the book.

BM 1: Just reading them will do. I never had too much of a problem

C: I don’t have any lines to learn

MC You just did

GMOB: [returns] I’m back again.

BD 2 We better get started then

Bipolar Disorder

One of the problems with the process is I am entering a period of creative difficulty. I recognise the symptoms. I was diagnosed with suffering from Bipolar Disorder after starting The Long and Winding Road in 2004. It was an intense time. Euphoria. Inertia. At one point I stood with my head beneath the cross at the Church on Rise Park and thought I saw the sky change colour. I read codes in road signs, deciphered registration plates, thought that songs were speaking to me etc. There may be a connection with resurrecting the project later this year for Hinterland - an off-site festival of work in Nottingham. There was a moment when I considered using Bipolar Disorder as a framework for the piece - the two acts being the two extremes of Manic Depression. Positive and Negative. Present and Absent. I was reluctant to do so as I didn't want Acts of Communion to become too cathartic. I didn't see why research was deemed to be more significant if it was scientific. I want interviews with the amateur dramatic group to be research. I want the history of the drama group and the church to be research. I want investigations into contemporary performance to be research. I am finding it difficult to confirm my research questions. I start researching one and then become distracted by another. Perhaps there is something of a Bipolar Disorder in contemporary performance that I need to reference; a world of undecidability and indecision, nihilism and optimism, existential disillusionment and 'laughing amongst the ruins'

From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bipolar_disorder

Bipolar disorder (also known as manic depression) is a psychiatric diagnostic category describing a class of mood disorders in which the person experiences depression and/or mania, hypomania, and/or mixed states. There are classes of Bipolar Disorder' Bipolar I & Bipolar II. Left untreated, it can be a disabling condition. The difference between bipolar disorder and unipolar disorder (also called major depression) — is bipolar disorder involves elevated mood states and might also involve depressive mood states. The duration and intensity of mood states varies widely among people with the illness. Fluctuating from one mood state to the next is called "cycling". Mood swings can cause impairment or improved functioning depending on their severity. There can be changes in one's energy level, sleep pattern, activity level, social rhythms and cognitive functioning. During these times, some people may have difficulty functioning.

Early in the course of the illness brain structural abnormalities may lead to feelings of anxiety and lower stress resilience. When faced with a very stressful, negative major life event, such as a failure in an important area, an individual may have their first major depression. Conversely, when an individual accomplishes a major achievement they may experience their first hypomanic or manic episode. Individuals with bipolar disorder tend to experience episode triggers involving either interpersonal or achievement-related life events. An example of interpersonal-life events include falling in love or, conversely, the death of a close friend. Achievement-related life events include acceptance into an elite graduate school or by contrast, being fired from work (Miklowitz & Goldstein, 1997).

Veteran brain researcher Robert Post M.D. of the U.S. NIMH proposed the "kindling" theory [1] which asserts that people who are genetically predisposed toward bipolar disorder experience a series of stressful events, each of which lowers the threshold at which mood changes occur. Eventually, the mood episode starts (and becomes recurrent) by itself. Not all individuals experience subsequent mood episodes in the absence of positive or negative life events, however.

In her book, Touched With Fire, Kay Redfield Jamison, Ph.D., writes:

The clinical reality of manic-depressive illness is far more lethal and infinitely more complex than the current psychiatric nomenclature, bipolar disorder, would suggest. Cycles of fluctuating moods and energy levels serve as a background to constantly changing thoughts, behaviors, and feelings. The illness encompasses the extremes of human experience. Thinking can range from florid psychosis, or "madness", to patterns of unusually clear, fast and creative associations, to retardation so profound that no meaningful mental activity can occur. Behavior can be frenzied, expansive, bizarre, and seductive, or it can be seclusive, sluggish, and dangerously suicidal. Moods may swing erratically between euphoria and despair or irritability and desperation. The rapid oscillations and combinations of such extremes result in an intricately textured clinical picture.

Terminal Rehearsal

This was the last rehearsal in the Powerhouse. A week ago. Working on text with a bare set. Cups of tea on stolen stools. A laptop on a table. Now I'm sitting in the Powerhouse again. Writing. No sound except Bob the porter playing his guitar to the dying whisper of a kettle. There is an overriding sense of the blank canvas in an empty stage. It is both liberating and terrifying. An air of ominous possibility pervades the Powerhouse in the time it takes the halogen lights to warm up. I could sit here in the empty space and imagine anything taking place. It would become my own private performance. Noone could ever see what I see. Any attempt to enact what I imagine would fail. Perhaps it is best left where it is. Unrendered. Unrealised. But I come here to visualise the words being spoken. Stage directions being followed. There is something about writing on the edge of the space and the silence you are trying to fill. In the margin. I find it hard to be as energised, as enthused, as confident in my abilities when there are others here or when I am at the church rehearsing with people I worry think what I've written is not good enough. Or not funny enough. Or too confusing. Or not right. If I write the show I want to write. They won't like it. If I write the show they want me to write. I won't like it. I'll be selling out. If you can sell out by writing for no money. So I'm staring at the black tabs. The mottled floor. The masking tape. In the black box space I still get a thrill from. A thrill of endless potential. Wondering what to write. Who to write for. The running man on the Emergency Exit sign is me. I remember helping my Dad paint the Fire Exit sign for the Church on Rise Park. When I was in MBD the Emergency Exit sign was a motif. Now it's mocking me. As I sit. Thinking. Waiting. Wanting to write.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The Terminus

Rise Park is the end of the line for Nottingham buses no. 15, 16, 88, 89 and 71a. I get the bus to rehearsal every other Wednesday night and make notes on what I see. This is an opportunity to capture a snapshot. Paint a picture in words. Document my journey from here to there, now to then. Always feels a bit like travelling backwards.

A 12 year old
With a beard
Kicks a football
At me
An England flag
Twice as high
As the house
Where it waves
A woman in a
Black tracksuit
Mowing matching
Stripes in her lawn
A children's day nursery
That used to be a
burnt out pub
At the bottom of the street
Where I was mugged
Punched in the mouth
For a pound coin
A road sign
A Tesco that's about
To get knocked down
With half a car park
Where I learnt to drive
Subways I used to survey
When I was at school
With a boy from Top Valley
Who I taught how to spell
Who now writes for
The Evening Post
The schools I used to go to
Children sitting on the kerb
Next to a skip full of
Formica furniture
A mother in reflective
Sunglasses staring
At the sun
A toddler
Sucking a dummy
Wandering into a subway
On her own
A white van
Parked in the bus lane
A man sitting at the bus stop
Wanting to get on
Before I get off
Chip shop blondes
Sea King Fish Bar
Spend it
Cabelodouro Salon
Where my friend David's
Mum made him go even though
It's where girls and mums go
The Post Office
The Newsagent
Where my brother got
Threatened with a cricket bat
By Balwinder
Barbed Wire
Kwik Save where I was when
I arranged my first date
The slope we used to sled down
Peppered with pet poo
A can of tango
A dartboard in a
Plastic basket
A tooth paste tube
Trodden on
A pot of Ben and Jerry's
Cookie Dough Ice Cream
Thawing on
A pool of mushroom soup
Pouring on
The pavement
Flowers blossom
By walls bruised
By footballs
A name written
On the step
CCTV camera
In a cage
Outside the church
Broken concrete bollards
Broken illuminated cross
A door handle
You're making a donation
Christian Aid

The Playground

Taken from fellow MA student Rhiannon Jones' website www.archivedactualities.com

I was with my friend Tim French on the playground near my house in Rise Park, Nottingham. It was one of those with a high slide where the top of the slide was in a cage it was so high. My mum wouldn't let me go down it. The ground was concrete. Tim and I were on the swings trying to go higher than each other. I shouted 'Watch this!' and attempted to jump off the swing when it was at its highest point. But I fell - and landed on my face. Apparently I blacked out for a couple of minutes and when I came round there was blood gushing from a hole in my chin. Tim said 'You can see the bone!' and rushed me home. I had to go to hospital and have stitches, a tetanus injection in my bottom and wear a massive plaster for a week.

In 2000 I fell over during a rehearsal in Morecambe and reopened the wound. I was trying a Titanic-style stance - arms outstretched leaning forward and again landed on my face. The floor was slippy. I was wearing socks. I didn't black out this time but there was more blood. And again the people there said 'You can see the bone!' More stitches. More plasters. More scar. A couple of years later one of the stitches fell out in the shower. Now it scares me when I shave and I grow a beard more than I would without it.

The playground soon got covered with wood chippings and they took away the slide with the cage at the top of it. Rumours at school were that someone had fallen off the top and died.


Tonight I missed a church rehearsal. I was ill. Still had the guilty feeling I associate with a lie-in on a Sunday. Reminds me of the obligation to attend church when I was young. We used to sit through services knowing that we could go to the sweet shop afterwards. Sometimes it felt like we were being bribed by sugar. Wondering if the church-ness of the site should be referenced more in the text. Perhaps the performance is part-wedding, part-christening, part-wake? The same characters at the different events. Three events bound by the same seating plan. The same absent buffet. Now that the piece is focussing solely on the church it makes more sense to investigate acts of communion that take place there. The reason people come to church. The reason people perform in the church drama group. Asylum. Escape. Catharsis. Pretense. Play. Make-believe. Stress-relief. Exercise. Fun. Fellowship. Worship. Laughter. To become someone else. There is a danger in my applying self as source techniques to the project that I prevent the usual transactions taking place. There are introductions to each performance. Inductions. Safety instructions. Please turn off your mobile phones. The toilets are 'Down the corridor on the left etc.' I showed one of the videos to the MA Group and they suggested the introduction seemed joyless and contradicted the joyfulness of the performance - or why people perform. In some ways these rules - these parameters of the experience are there to comfort us - just as the rules of the church are there to provide guidelines to the way we live.

The light at the end of the tunnel

I have seen the light at the end of the tunnel. The subway on the Rise Park estate where there used to be a painted rainbow before vandals defaced the community mural. Nothing is left of my childhood. Everything has changed. I have had an epiphany. I have found hope at the bottom of the glass. As the bridesmaids say in Act Two:

BD 1 The glass was half full

BD 2 The glass was half empty

I can write what I want to write. These are the criteria:

It has to be pleasing for me to write
It has to be pleasing for the group to perform
It has to be pleasing for the audience to experience

The process of performance has been distilled into a tryptych of such simplicity. So obvious. There can be no holding back. Even now. I am typing without thinking. Writing without worrying. This is where I need to be to create. No hesitation. Hesitation comes later. I don't know if I should be writing the piece. Or writing about writing the piece. Or writing about writing about writing about the piece. A film crew following a film crew. The project is beset by Derrida's idea of undecidability. Is it a piece of theatre? Or film? Or Performance Art. Am I writing performance or performing writing? Am I a writer or a performer? These are the questions I am asking. Every artwork must ask some questions of art. By writing and performing a piece of amateur dramatic theatre as part of a Performance and Live Art MA am I rendering the amateur into art or rendering the MA into amateur? Right now. I want to write about a drama group enacting an act of drama.

'And so often. A show about a bunch of people presenting a show. A troupe who are not the actual Forced Entertainment troupe but a set of distorted versions of them. A troupe who present a show that is not our show but theirs, and their struggle to get their show right is our show. Let's hope their show goes badly and our show goes well. It's funnier that way.' - Tim Etchells, Live Art and Performance

A play about plays they have and haven't done. Can and can't do. Because plays are an act of ministry - an arm of church outreach - they cannot contain certain words e.g. God becomes Gosh. Damn becomes Dash etc. There are confessions of censorship. There are lines of connection. Acts of communion. Personal and theoretical. Between amateur and professional. Mainstream and experimental. From The White Album to The Curious Savage. From the amateur to the academic. From the religious to the secular. But most of all from the amateur dramatic world where I started to the experimental world where I ended. And perhaps in this act of communion. In this meeting of exaggerated make up and no make up, over the topness and under the bottomness, high end and low end, I resolve my artistic career and find out what I want to do when I grow up.

'In any case if it was theatre it always smelled a bit of the show trial, or of awkward press conference, or of public interrogation, or of stand-up comedy headed to the wrong edge of funny or of vaudeville gone wrong, or of freak show, or of incompetent lecture demonstration, or of the drama enacted for children, or of over-enthusiastic performances on amateur stages.' - Tim Etchells, Live Art and Performance

The Decision

'Then playwriting itself became a nettle, became several in fact; the shallowness, the wasted time, the messiness of other minds, the hopelessness of pretending - in the garden of the arts, it was a weed and had to die.' - Ian McEwan, Atonement

There is an inevitability that this blog will unwrite itself as the project develops and my original intention rights itself. This was the third workshop with students from Nottingham Trent University. The second workshop with a full compliment of performers. I created a text to the compositional structure - featuring fragments of the material I have already listed here. Political. Personal. Wedding protocol. We read it through and enacted certain scenes. Do Re Mi. My Favourite Things. The problem is - I can't find the tone of voice I'm looking for and my focus is becoming more involved in researching and writing for the amateur dramatic Act. The initial binary opposite (AM Dram / MA Dram) I was investigating is no longer the aim - populism and elitism as an area of investigation is too slippery to pinpoint - especially in a year. The students I am working with though able and enthusiastic are not the polar opposite of the cast of the Church on Rise Park Drama Group. Two of them are Fine Art Students with no professional experience of performance. In this sense - they are as much amateur as the amateur group. Perhaps I needed to work with professional experimental theatre practitioners. So what is left of Act One. The fact that it can be more abstract, more thought provoking, more able to shock. This is not necessarily the right justification for creating a new piece of work. I have set out to realise two performances and a film of these performances. I have foreseen the product, the 'end point', the 'exit velocity' before entering the process. I must now reevaluate where I am going and what I need to do to get there. I experienced the academic circuit whilst touring with MBD and have no need or desire to explore that performance context now. The dualities between the two arenas that I intended to explore are present in just the one act. Does the fact that members of the drama group take time off work during a show make it their job? Are they both professional and amateur? Can the piece they perform not have elements of experimental theatre? I have become too immersed in their world to create another world whose only aim is to be different. There is a rich dynamic in their words - from interviews, from rehearsals - that will inform the process. I will focus solely on creating a new piece of work for the Church on Rise Park. The edge of the map is the blueprint.

The Blueprint

I visited the Nottinghamshire Archives to investigate the history of the sites. Records were thin regarding the Powerhouse although I found blueprints for other NTU buildings. However I discovered original documents about the building of the Church on Rise Park.

In September 1968 the church opened as a member of the Bestwood diocese. Churchgoers were both Anglicans and Methodist. In 1969 the church became a place of ecumenical worship. In 1978 the Drama Group started rehearsing and performing on an annual basis.

I found planning records submitted on 16 March 1966 for the patch of land on Rise Park Farm set aside for a commercial centre, church, public house, a car park and petrol station. The artefact itself - hand drawn in black ink - has an air of personal history to it. A pencil-written note on a blue slip of paper is clipped to the plan of the building site.

'The site officer considers these details to be satisfactory and he recommends that they be approved.'

This is where I grew up, the church I attended, the pub I was scared of, the car park where someone ran over my parents car. Literally. And left dents in the roof. The petrol station has now gone. The tangible lines of ink and pencil seem to connect with the narratives of nostalgia that I am threading through the texts.

The Toast

Inspired by the idea of absence and the narrative of nostalgia emerging in Act Two I devised a series of toasts in Act One reflecting on the changes in the locality. The radius of reference was equally short but inclusive to the community of the audience.

MC To the things that were meant to disappear

G To the Creative Arts Course

B To the MA that began in January

BM To the Victoria Studios

B To the crossing opposite the Victoria Centre

MC Look left. Look right.

[All look left. Look right.]

BM To being knocked down

G To the car park they knocked down

B To the building next to the car park they knocked down

MC To the buildings we don’t remember once they’ve gone

BM To the cranes

MC Look up. Look down.

[All look up. Look down.]

B To the Odeon Cinema

BM To the ABC Cinema

G To the Broadway

BM To Beatties Toy Shop

B To the CO-OP

BM To CO-OP Arts

G To Allders

BM To Littlewoods

B To C&A

BM To the Xylophone man

MC To the people we only remember once they’ve gone

Narratives of Nostalgia

To deal with the notion of absence I investigated the idea of what was no longer there. I grew up in Rise Park and many of the local 'landmarks' have been knocked down. Mobile phone masts go up. Shops change names. The church is fenced off. Surgeries move. The car park is always empty. As the list grew the group became involved in remembering. An act of reminiscence. There are moments with the group where it begins to feel more like a devised piece. The final text includes their contributions and ad lib responses. As we workshopped the text the reminiscences became toasts e.g. To the big slide with the cage at the top. This fused with the back catalogue - another narrative of nostalgia. These are perhaps anchorage points for an audience. Appealing to their communal memory of their community. Pricking their communal conscience. This was an act of communion.

GMOB: [To BM 1] Hello. What an interesting dress.

FOB: Tesco in Top Valley

GMOB: Did you make it yourself? It looks like you did.

BD 1: The bride got them made for us

GMOB: I made my bridesmaids dresses out of sackcloth and string.

BD 2: Your granddaughter

GMOB: It was the war so we had to make ends meet.

MOB: Grandways

GMOB: None of your ends meet

BD 1: Her mother measured us

GMOB: Your seam’s not straight.

BD 2: Your daughter

GMOB: The zip’s a zig zag

BD 1: Her grandmother made them

GMOB: The hem’s hamfisted.

BD 1 / BD 2: You

MOG: Big D

GMOB: [changing subject] Do you know where the toilets are?

BM 1: The surgery on Blantyre Avenue.

MOB: Mother, Tony’s trying to speak

BD 1: The dentists on Portree Drive.

GMOB: Well don’t let me stop him

BD 2: The tall slide with the cage at the top

BD 1 / BD 2: At the end of the corridor on the left

FOB: Nothing is left of her childhood.

GMOB: Jansys

MOB: Oh yes. They did fantastic knitting wool.

FOB: Shops close down. Mobile phone masts go up.

Friday, August 04, 2006

The Back Catalogue

At the same time in Act Two I am collating a collage of references to previous plays performed by The Church on Rise Park Drama Group. I am finding a voice for each piece and establishing focal points. The sources of fragments to fuel the text range from the political to the parochial, the global to the local, the amateur to the academic.

BD 1: Do you come here often?

BM 1: Always the best man never the groom.

BD 1: I’ve been a bridesmaid so many times I could…

BM 1: Dress seven brides for seven brothers.

BD 1: How did you know?

BM 1: I heard it in a show.

FOB: I’ve watched her grow, from show to show.

MOB: Wedding of the Year

FOG: Fish out of Water

MOG: Pickle in Paradise

BD 2: Down to Brass Tacks

BM 1: Lucky for Some

BD 1: I’ll Get my Man

MOB: The Man Outside

FOB: Just the Ticket

MOG: Happy Days

GMOB: Play On

BM 1: The Camel’s Back

FOG: The Curious Savage

Thursday, August 03, 2006

To Parenthood

I have found out that my girlfriend and I are expecting a baby. This changes the landscape. An amazing feeling made all the more amazing because we never expected to feel it. Life is what happens to you when you are making other plans. At the same time, I was working on a scene where the parents of the child propose a toast.

DONNA We’d like to propose a toast to parenthood

ALL To parenthood

BETTY To wiping dribble from their chin

AUDREY To singing them to sleep

LOUISE To putting stabilisers on their first bike

IAN To taking the stabilisers off their first bike

HARRY To picking them up after they fall off their first bike

IAN To putting the stabilisers back on their first bike

BETTY To picking them up after their first day at school

KATH To watching them in their first play

TONY To walking them down the aisle on their wedding day

JONATHAN To holding them in their gown at their christening

The Cake

For the last rehearsal of Act Two I interviewed my mum about wedding cake protocol and initiated a cake off between the MOB and the MOG. I am interested in the clashes that could occur at the table e.g. the FOB and the FOG arguing about road directions.

All: To the mother of the Groom for the cake

FOB: Tell me how did you get it so… hard

MOG: You have three tins of different sizes

MOB: Do you line the tins with greaseproof paper before you put it in?

MOG: You wrap brown paper or newspaper around the outside because they have to bake on a long, slow heat until they’re cooked.

MOB: Do you cook them all for different lengths?

MOG: In my oven I can only fit one in at a time.

MOB: In my oven I could have fitted all three

MOG: You cook them several months ahead if you can and then you store them and you keep putting brandy or sherry or whatever in them when you want to feed them.

FOB: Sounds like a good life to me

MOB: You turn them upside down and pour it into the bottom of the cake.

MOG: And then you put the almond paste on and then you leave that to dry out.

MOB: Because if you put the icing on too quickly it turns yellow.

MOG: Then you either use royal icing which is made of egg white

MOB Or you buy fondant icing which you can roll out.

MOG: The old fashioned way is to have pillars between each tier

MOB: Or you can just put them on top of each other and put your flowers on

GMOB: Of course the tradition is that you keep the top tier for the christening

MOG: Well they better get a move on because the top tier’s a sponge cake

MOB: Why didn’t you make it a fruit cake?

MOG: Because I was told someone had an allergy

FOG: I’m allergic to dried fruit

FOB: I’m allergic to marzipan

BM 1: I’m allergic to egg white

BD 1: I have a nut allergy

BD 2 I’m lactose intolerant

MOB: I’m allergic to sherry

MOG: I’m allergic to brandy

GMOB: I don’t like sponge cake

MOG: Well I don’t suppose anyone will eat it at the Christening either then