Ipswich: PULSE Suitcase Prize contenders quizzed

The Flying Roast Goose

The Flying Roast Goose - Credit: Archant

Entertainment writer Wayne Savage talks to the theatre-makers taking part in this year’s PULSE Suitcase Prize Day.

Leftovers

Leftovers - Credit: Archant

PULSE 2013 challenged theatre-makers to think in an environmentally and economically sustainable way by coming up with work that can be transported on public transport, the aim being to try to reduce the carbon footprint that touring theatre leaves behind.

How To Win Against History

How To Win Against History - Credit: Archant

The result was the inaugural Suitcase Prize, a full day of 20 minute extracts from new and work in progress shows competing to win £1,000.

Anthropoetry

Anthropoetry - Credit: Archant

There are three sessions on May 31; 2pm-3.30pm and 6pm-7.20pm at the New Wolsey Studio and 4pm-5.20pm at the New Wolsey Theatre. The judging panel, independent theatre producer Nick Sweeting, Sholeh Johnson from Julie’s Bicycle and New Wolsey Young Associate Lorna Garside will consider audiences’ feedback throughout the day at #pulsesuitcase.

A Cure For Ageing

A Cure For Ageing - Credit: Archant

I asked the contenders what made them take up the challenge, have they changed the way they work, have they tested the piece out, have they had fun and what they’d do with the money if they won.

A Journey Round My Skull

A Journey Round My Skull - Credit: Archant

Near Gone

Near Gone - Credit: Archant


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OUT OF CHAOS, The Flying Roast Goose

Raymondo

Raymondo - Credit: Archant

It’s an innovative challenge and I’ve never heard of anything like this before. It’s great to see what theatre practioners can do to help reducing carbon footprint.

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Our company is a physical theatre company, we tend to be quite minimal and use our body to create images. For this piece in particular we play with kitchen objects and puppets.

We did a short sketch in a London venue. Most of the objects can fit into the suitcase except the fragile goose and shadow puppets. It may sound cheeky, we do need a table and a chair but we’ll be able to borrow them from the theatre. The challenge is you never know what kind of table you get which may result in some technical adjustments.

We explore the possibilities of creating a war scene with kitchen objects, it’s fun to see what else a wok can be. We also discover more about the relationship between the goose and the character on an emotional level which is something beautiful.

I think it is very important to make it sustainable for the project and the artists. I would share the money with my performers for their time and put a portion of it aside for the future development of the piece.

FIGS IN WIGS, Leftovers

It’s a great chance to keep cost and stress levels low. Minimal set leaves us more time to think about the show artistically and taking public transport means no one has to be designated driver so we can all have a glass of wine after the show.

We did have to down-size certain props. The show originally contained a fridge-freezer which, despite being a five-strong company, we were unable to carry between us. We replaced it with a lightweight cool-box which we now also use for picnics.

We have transported the show from London to Cambridge and back, as well as a trial circuit on the London Underground. So far so good, apart from the peas which by the end of the Circle Line smelt slightly strange.

We’re trying to beat the world record attempt for eating the most peas with a cocktail stick in three minutes. During rehearsals we’ve definitely been getting our five a day.

We would put the money towards the development of our new show We, Object which we are taking to the Edinburgh Fringe in August. We’re also performing We, Object at PULSE - you can catch it at The New Wolsey Theatre on June 8 at noon. If there’s any cash leftover we will invest in a suitcase with wheels.

SEIRIOL DAVIES, How to Win Against History

I’m always impressed with shows that weave something out of nothing - the vagabond spinning stupid magic out of a bag and some words - it’s just quite sexy I think. It’s brilliant there’s someone out there encouraging people to think small in that way. Also, this show is at a very, very early stage, so we don’t actually have that much stuff, so it’s nice to be at that stage where you’re thinking ‘Okay, so we’ve got nothing; how many more things do we need? We can have maybe two or three things max’.

I’ve worked a fair bit like this. I’ve got a company called Giant Bird I’m in with some friends in America and we even do the lighting ourselves from a case; whizzing around the stage flipping lamps on and off in time with the action. I’ve got a background in cabaret/variety as well, where you’ve basically got whatever you can lug there on the bus to do your act with and if you’re lucky you get a taxi home. But you might pocket that money for a night-time steak slice from Londis instead.

The acid test will be if we can get to Ipswich on time and then back for the show I have in London that night - Mess at the Battersa Arts Centre, plug plug - but to be honest, the two of us being who we are, any travel chaos that does happen is unlikely to have been caused by the suitcase.

I try not to do anything that’s not at least a bit fun. This one’s very, although I’m having to be gentle with my voice because I’ve got wisdom teeth coming in, which are not in themselves in the least fun.

I’d fund a development phase of the piece with a director and that in the room, leading to a work in progress. Not the most thrilling answer, but thrilling to me. Oh, and I’d also commission a designer to make us some earth-shattering period outfits. Although, to fit with the aesthetic of the piece, they’d need to be earth-shattering and yet somehow also c**p. That’d be my brief. Oh and portable, obviously.

BEN MELLOR, Anthropoetry

We’ve always had a commitment to working sustainably. My first solo show, Voices of Dissent, on which Dan worked as sound designer and production manager, was researched, powered and toured by bicycle.

When making work appropriate for fringe venues we always try to be as minimal as possible in terms of set and equipment. It’s just easier that way. Not to mention cheaper.

We opened the show in Edinburgh last year, travelling there and back by train. The show’s changed and developed since then but the only thing we’ve added physically is an X-ray print onesie for Dan. We’ve had enormous fun. We’ve performed the show loads now in its different guises and we’re still really enjoying it.

We’d put the money towards the development of our new show, Shaggy Doggerel, which we are opening in Edinburgh this summer on the free fringe, as well as taking Anthropoetry back in its new and improved form for a second run. We’re funding it all ourselves so the money would be an enormously welcome contribution.

IRA BRAND, A Cure for Ageing

The piece was already in development when I applied and it fitted the criteria. It was less a case of specifically taking up the challenge, more realising the work was already developing that way.

My work is usually made with a lo-fi or DIY aesthetic and rarely has much in the way of set. I like work that is economical in its use of materials - it’s satisfying when artists do a lot with not very much. I also don’t have the budget for large extravagant sets or props, nor for transporting them. I think it’s important for artists to be able to make work in a way that is resourceful, it means they can be resilient in our political and economic environment. In a way, it also felt particularly appropriate to keep the staging and materials simple for this piece as the themes and ideas it tries to talk about are so massive.

I haven’t tried it, but as I say I’m used to having quite simple, portable work and I have years of experience of carrying shows around in Ikea bags or on public transport - including last year an old overhead projector, which was admittedly a little awkward.

It’s fun and it’s hard work but it always is. I would put the bulk of the money towards the making of my next show, for which I want to collaborate with a designer - not to make a set, but to work together on making images and visual elements. A bit of it would likely go to fixing up my bike, which desperately needs some love.

OLIVIA WINTERINGHAM/KINDLE THEATRE, A Journey Round My Skull

We’ve wanted to make this performance for some time now. It takes its name and inspiration from an extraordinary account of a Frigyes Karinthy, a Hungarian satirist who suffered a brain tumour in the 1930s. The symptoms he experienced started off with auditory hallucinations becoming progressively worse until he could barely see or co-ordinate his movements.

The book is captivating, moving but also, oddly, very funny – probably because his satirical approach to writing. His first symptom – auditory hallucination is particularly interesting to us and our intention is to transport the audience to specific contexts through sound without the need for physical set. In this way we hope the audience can imagine locations and events in their own way in their own imagination.

We always like to collaborate with different artists but this is the first time we’ve collaborated with a writer and it’s the first time we’ve made it as a solo show. The challenge of making something that is ‘lite’ is very different for us. In the past we’ve made performances that exist in the spaces in which they are made and these are not always theatres – we did one show that invited the audience to dinner but it was set in this chaotic rubbish dump which we installed in factories in Birmingham and Brighton, what some people had thrown away we used as our set including a spiral staircase, a vast truck load of leaves and two up-turned cars.

For a Journey Round My Skull we’re working with a device called a makey-makey which turns anything into a key or button, this means Olivia can cue sound from the stage and therefore doesn’t need an operator to cue sound effects. When the show is finished maybe this will be the same for the lighting, we don’t know yet but we’re excited by the possibility for Olivia to have total autonomy in performance – that’s not to say we don’t need technical support.

A Journey Round My Skull is still being made and we hope to finish it over the summer and into the autumn followed by a short tour in October. We’ve performed it as a very early work-in-progress performance in Bristol to see how people respond to it. So we know some things about how quickly we can set up, how the sound works and how audiences are responding to the performance.

It’s been fun, it’s also been hard work because while the show takes some from a book we’re making it from scratch and there’s always lots of possibilities and questions to answer, like ‘is this the best way to write that? Should it be performed in this way? Should it sound like that’?

I would finish the show if we won. It would mean I could continue to work with the other collaborators and meet the medical specialists who will consult on the medical side. I’m currently talking to an anaesthetist about recording medical equipment that is used in surgery.

ALISTER LOWNIE/TWO DESTINATIONS LANGUAGE, Near Gone

Near Gone is a piece about our transient nature. We journey through life with objects and possessions, but the things we hold really dear are those people we love. The challenge of touring with just a suitcase seemed really well matched to the piece.

Instead of allowing ourselves to think about what we might possibly want to have, adding more and more to our rehearsals before we edited things back to the show, we started with nothing. Our dramaturg, the amazing Charlotte Vincent, encouraged us to ask ‘what’s it for?’ That meant we quickly rid ourselves of everything that wasn’t necessary. The result is quite amazing, we have simple costume that doesn’t take up much space and 400 flowers which have been grown especially to be cut and displayed in their death throes.

We’ve looked at a variety of suitcases. We can have our flowers delivered to a theatre, but it seems a bit like cheating and we wanted to make sure each performance has the flowers exactly as open as we want them, so we’ve worked with a local flower importer to make sure we can take them with us for each show. Packed up, they don’t take up much space, but spread out around our office before we pack them it’s quite an incredible place to work.

We’ve worked hard, but we’ve definitely had fun. The experience of working with distressing personal material has sometimes been difficult but we’ve worked with great collaborators - foremost is Charlotte, who brought a really careful eye and clever sense of theatre to the piece, but also artist Sheila Ghelani who helped us think about the meaning of the images we were making and sound artist Tim Blazdell who smiled from the corner where he sat with a couple of clever machines and made exactly the sounds we wanted to play with. Also, there’s European gypsy music in the piece and it has such fantastic energy it’s hard not to have fun.

We need to spend some more time in the rehearsal room, working on the details of the relationship between us, the rhythm of the piece. It’s changed incredibly by the length of a pause, by a glance and that’s really exciting each time we perform it. Plus, to make that happen, we’ll be booking loads of train tickets and purchasing lots of flowers which weren’t in the original budget, so the prize money’s doubly valuable.

ANNIE SIDDONS, Raymondo.

It was actually PULSE who suggested I fit into this category – because I kind of work in this way anyway. I think it’s a good idea.

I’ve kept it {the premise) in mind but this is a storytelling show with music so is intrinsically portable. I like the idea of being able to rock up somewhere and make work kind of like a medieval troubadour... maybe.

I haven’t test-run its portability yet; that will depend on the number of pedals Marcus wants to use.

If I won the money I’d put it back into the development of the show. We didn’t apply for funding for this bit so we’ve been working for free and paying travel and stuff out of our own pockets. The whole show is much bigger and longer and more complex than this bit so it will need money to develop it.

HANNAH NICKLIN, A Conversation With My Father

I’m passionate about taking work to people and places outside of traditional theatre spaces. My show in particular has a strong and, I hope, accessible message about how politics are personal and the personal is political and about the radical importance of listening to one another. This isn’t just for the kind of people who can afford to and have the confidence to walk into a theatre and look through a theatre programme. That’s why I’ve made a show that can travel almost anywhere. It can go to front rooms, church halls, gig spaces, pubs, festivals, as well as theatres.

Because of the above the ability to tour it light was built into the design thinking from the beginning. Also, I don’t drive or fly wherever possible for environmental reasons, the same reason I’m a 360-day-a-year vegetarian, so I always bear in mind portability. That’s not to say I wouldn’t make a more complicated show that required transport other than me and a bag with wheels. For now, that’s how this has worked.

I made the show in residence across four theatres in the midlands and north of England, so as well as everything I need to perform it with I had a week’s worth of clothes, sports gear and food. It’s portable. Though I do have to have a bit of a lie down after a journey that contains a lot of train stations without lifts.

I’d put the money towards an autumn/spring tour that would explore alternative touring methods/spaces along side traditional theatre spaces.

Read my interview with Hannah online now.

KATIE GREEN, The Museum’s Secrets (working title).

We have been researching The Museum’s Secrets since March and were keen to find ways in which we could test out our research with new audiences, including younger audiences. The Suitcase Day provided a great opportunity to share our ideas while they were still at the work-in-progress stage and also to work with Ipswich Museum which has really welcomed us in to its space and particularly its beautiful Victorian natural history gallery. It was while I was working at Ipswich Museum with UCS dance students in 2012 that I had the idea for the Museum’s Secrets project to begin with so I’m very glad to be able to bring it back to this unique space for PULSE 2013.

As Made By Katie Green is a dance company, our primary story-telling tools are always our bodies and this means our work tends to be very transportable. However, whereas in the past we have started to introduce pieces of set/props into our performances, the Suitcase Day challenge has encouraged us to respond to the existing features of a specific site to give context to our work. So The Museum’s Secrets responds choreographically to the artefacts we find in museums as well as the architecture of the space and the dancers encourage the audience to watch their movement through the museum display cases, for example.

The challenge of creating something that can be packed up in a suitcase has also impacted on our future planning for The Museum’s Secrets, which we hope will be transportable and adaptable to a greater range of museums and heritage sites because of its very minimal technical specifications. This means there is potential for us to be able to reach a greater number of people with our work, including people who may not have seen dance performance before.

We travelled to Ipswich Museum by train for rehearsals earlier in May and there are some photos of our time on-site on our company Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.520645211327221.1073741827.243984422326636&type=3

The process of bringing a new piece to life is always great fun, particularly in the early stages when the ideas are very fresh and we spend time playing with possibilities. We have really enjoyed working with Ipswich Museum and meeting its woolly mammoth, giraffe, rhinoceros and gorillas. We also particularly enjoy working on this piece because it is aimed at an audience aged seven-plus and designed to be interactive. We spent some time in March working with seven-11 year olds as co-directors, giving us their feedback on our ideas. We’re looking forward to welcoming children and young people from Ipswich to the museum on the 31st May.

We want to develop The Museum’s Secrets up to a full-length piece from August onwards. The Suitcase prize money would be an invaluable contribution to making that happen, enabling us to bring dance performance to museums and heritage sites across the country, including working again with Ipswich Museum, and to offer dance workshop opportunities for children and young people alongside those performances, encouraging them to see their local museum in a new light.

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