The 11th and 12th of October were spent doing the first of the many artist drop ins I’ll be completing over the course of the placement. These drop ins with artists that Imaginate are currently supporting are a chance for me to investigate real examples of working practice that currently exist in the sector. It allows me to make connections, ask questions and see examples of the kind of performances that are being funded as well as giving me an insight into the realities and practicalities of making this work happen in the real world.
This particular drop in was with Claire McGarry – Imaginate’s Artist in Residence from January – December 2018 based at Paisley Arts Centre. As part of the residency, Claire has been creating a new piece of theatre for age range 5-8 called Cosmopot that will tour in the Renfrewshire area from 13 – 21 October 2018.
Cosmopot is a performance that takes place inside a teapot structure, the audience enter by walking along the spout which has become a sort of tunnel and take their seats on little stools or else the many cushions scattered around the edges of the space. The teapot glows and feels magical, the structure is truly transformative and whilst inside we forget that we’re in a theatre or building at all. We’re carried along on a journey with Chip to fix the broken teapot that was his late grandfathers. His mission to space the fix the teapot has songs and games and lots of weird and wonderful characters. Seeing this work in its final stages of development has been very interesting, the script is still a bit wordy and hasn’t quite settled on its ultimate form yet, the actors are working really hard to find the depth and importance that should stay within the extra parts that are less needed. The practicalities of making the performance and its structure ‘tourable’ are a hurdle that in my opinion is maybe holding back the artistic potential in places. The struggle between what is practical and what is wanted in an ideal world is always a difficult compromise in making art. There is also still a feeling of uncertainty about how the material is going to be received by proper full audiences of young people. I’m truly looking forward to returning a week on Friday to see the work in performance during its tour.
The Thursday Friday I spent with the creative team behind Cosmopot were busy, varied and exciting days full of half started conversations and quick tasks mucking in to make the show happen. It felt authentic and natural. A real team effort to get the performance to the right place.
What follows is a list of thoughts and ideas that came up for me over these days. The reflection is messy and has tangents. It takes detours and in places feels irrelevant. I feel that this suits it more than anything, when does making art ever follow a clear and expected narrative.
- The ending changed days before the show went public. This reassured me that the process of making art is always unsure and changing. Its ok if things aren’t solid.
- Interacting with a wider creative team involves respect and politics, an awareness of when helpfulness might be considered stepping on toes.
- How is the power dynamic between the director and the creative team influenced by the fact that the director is female. To what extent does a gender bias still exist in the way creative teams interact. How can this be avoided?
- Claire has made 10 kids shows but not normally in the role of director, this new role has allowed her to expand her practice and try a new approach. Having the funding to try this has really benefited her arts practice.
- The importance of sound and lighting cannot be understated in children theatre.
- The teapot structure in which the action takes place transformed the space but without really good tech it loses its power. The light and sound levels were absolutely key to how immersive and magical the space becomes.
- An outside eye was the only way little things were caught before the show went public. Little details like the helmet handle needing removed. The stickers on some items, stray tape on the structure. It’s a trap to get too comfortable in rehearsal versions of material because it allows you to miss things.
- I feel really capable in my ability to watch rehearsals of work and know how to polish it. I enjoy the role of director/dramaturg possibly more than as a performer within the work. I think I have a keen eye for detail and this is one of my strengths as a maker.
- Sound pads were integrated into the structure and allowed the children to influence the soundscape in the space before the performance began. This is an idea with lots of potential that could be explored further. I am particularly interested in theatrical experiences and spaces that can be influenced by the young people in the room.
Why make work for young audiences?
This is a question I keep returning to, wanting to understand more deeply why it feels so right to me that this is what I and so many others are so passionate about. When asked about it Claire spoke a lot about respecting children and understanding that they have a whole experience of the world that we can learn a lot from. She also spoke of really loving the fun and creativity that a child’s world gives us access to. Speaking to the performers Sita Pieraccini and James Siggens we discussed how vocal and responsive the young people can be in performance settings, the way that theatre etiquette is instilled in adults is not yet learned and as such doesn’t limit their ability to get involved – this completely changes the performing experience. The imagination of young people means that performance in this sector has a huge scope for creativity.
In the weeks to follow I know I will return to this question again and again because I know that the answer is rich with depth and with meaning.