Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Dancing Words

For the last few months I have been producing a performed response project at the Gas Gallery in Aberystwyth. I have been participating as a writer and it’s been an interesting and educational experience.

Response Time includes performance makers from all disciplines ; performance artists, visual artists, installation, physical theatre, movement, dancers, storytellers . Response Time has thrown them all in together and put them all out of their comfort zones. Definitions of performance have never really had a place in Response Time with 48 hours to work people don’t really have time to define their work just to get on with it.

The idea of the project is to spend 48 hours responding to the art, space and environment and then pulling all the different responses into an hour or so of performance which we shared with an audience on the Sunday evening. During the week of the 4th – 12th April we extended the project to a week long response Replay Me Adleisio. The project received funding from Arts Council Wales which  allowed us to explore the model of the project over a longer period.

My role as a writer in Replay Me Adleisio was to work alongside choreographer Lara Ward and musician and composer Nick Jones to create words, movement and sound - working with 3 performers (Cet Haf, Gwion Llyr and Milly Jackdaw).

As a writer the project has put me so far out of my comfort zone at times it was terrifying – always exhilarating but terrifying no less.

Thinking about how I have worked over the six responses I recognise a journey I have been on as a writer. For the first two I stuck firmly with what I knew, I picked art and I created characters from it. I found myself drawn to the words in the gallery, the artists statements the titles of art and I looked for stories but as the projects have progressed I have found myself freeing myself from what I knew I could do easily and exploring what I didn’t know how to do.

All writers have processes, usually developed over a number of years, I know I have ways that I approach an idea. Exercises that I use to get an idea moving – develop characters, structure, themes. I have processes to develop the layers in a piece. I have processes to develop the different drafts. I have processes to explore the holes and plug them. I even have processes to develop the differences within each new piece. I know each new idea has to have a different way to explore its subject and style but I still explore those differences through an established process.

But what I found with Response Time was that none of it was any good to me. For the first few projects I produced something resembling my usual work but it was all work that was lacking. Some good dialogue, some interesting characters, some interesting situations but lacking. Somewhere around the third one I found myself doing something very different.

This wasn’t because I recognised the need for a new process, it was because I was starting to absorb other people’s processes. For me it has been the most useful part of being involved in Response Time as a writer has been watching how others work in particular the young and emerging artists like Vivian Ezugha , Hannah Pullen and James Baker – all of them young and inexperienced in performance an all of them from different disciplines but yet all of them producing amazing work every time they have participated because as young and emerging artists they have a refreshing lack of experience and respond and develop work with an admirable mixture of naivety and boldness. All of them threw themselves into the art, the moment, the response. It was watching them that made me want to rediscover that naivety and boldness of the youthful writer I once was. 

I usually spend a lot of time thinking about an idea – it is the most important part of my process is the days I spend walking around the woods with the dogs, gardening, cleaning, doing office work – all while my brain turns an idea over and over. Producing a 48 hour response does not give time for a considered response just an emotional response, moving forward with a gut response, an instinctive feeling. Then pushing everything I knew to one side and letting the words flow, not worrying about what the words were doing just letting them loose.

On the response project with Lara as curator I watched her direct pieces – pieces that were effectively short plays, and it was as though she made the words dance around the room. That was a thought that has stayed with me. I didn’t want to write plays for Response Time – I know how to do that already –for Response Time I wanted to see my words dance around a room.

For Replay Me Adleisio I wanted to see the words become music in the hands of Nick, not song – that’s very different –,  but music and I wanted my words to dance. Whether or not I achieved that doesn’t really matter, though I think it did, in fact not only that my words became a pathway for a parkour film and my words disrupted movement to become an improvisational piece.

I still love narrative plays and will be returning to writing one soon, and I’m looking forward to it, to get back into inciting incidents and mid-points but I am going to try to bring what I’ve learned in Response Time to my narrative play.  I will return to it thinking about dancing words and following my gut instincts because I know how much fun it is to be out of my comfort zone and back to being a naive and bold youthful writer whilst also knowing how much better it is to be that naive and bold youthful writer with the experience and knowledge of being a saggier and crinklier older writer.