Here’s my (inevitably flawed and holey) summary of the fascinating day dedicated to training in verbatim practices, hosted by Kate Craddock as part of a TaPRA Performer Training interim event at Northumbria. Any confusions are all my own.
First Provocation from Tom Cantrell
Where does imitating end and performing begin? “Imitating is a less noble art than acting” But nevertheless close observation and mimicry is part of the craft of verbatim work and of faction. What terminology do we need to capture this strand of the work? And how do we manage the bias towards emotional, empathic acting (from Stanislavsky). What is our ‘craft terminology’ Cantrell asks?
Second Provocation from Lexi Strauss
Developing a growing discomfort about some of the ethical approaches in verbatim work. So how to use the same techniques in paint and fine art? A life time body of work might be the closest to a definitive self portrait? What’s the problem with recorded delivery verbatim then? Perhaps because the original ‘darkness’ of the material might not translate and might be reinterpreted by an audience. Perhaps because its claim to objectivity is specious. Lexi only interviews people with whom she has ‘a specific connection’. The result is a hybrid of the subject and the interviewer/artist. How would you describe your verbatim practice, Lexi asks, is it closer to the journalistic or the immersive – or something entirely different? Either way it needs to acknowledge its hybridity.
Third Provocation from Richard Gregory
How to show our hands? Questions from the work of Quarantine:
No such thing Buying people a free lunch in exchange for a conversation. (No documentation of any part of the conversation, no evaluation, no public airing). Monthly themes: on hope, on risk, on utopia, on what’s new. The work retains the ‘considered rigour’ of the more formal work of the company but invisibly. Dramaturgy based on Starters, Mains, Afters, Today’s special.
Wallflower: Can you remember all the dances you’ve ever danced? How do you develop the facility to be responsible for the dramaturgy and the whole mise-en-scene? All that is possible is to set ‘a delicate architecture’ and be alert to what the possibilities are. One of the biggest questions about training and preparation is ‘How do we know how we are being seen’ [by an audience]?
Summer, Autumn Winter, Spring: 7 hours, (Part 1 – Summer – 40 people on stage from across the age range, without experience, responding to questions and a projected score). As the questions are unseen how do you rehearse the performers? Feed them, make them familiar with the idea of responding to a structure – training for ‘becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable’
Paper by Alison Forsyth (Skypeing in from Aberystwyth)
Real people putting on their own stories, e.g Evette Hornsby Minor: If I could hear my mother pray again, 2007. How does one train for work which has to be delivered by the actual storytellers of their personal stories? What are the benefits of non-trained performers? Authenticity? Rawness? Immediacy? Therapeutic effects? Empowerment and space for vocalisation? The veracity of the ‘body as document’. What are the dangers? Re-traumatisation? Lack of ensemble experience? Directorial distortion? Lack of skill and aptitude? Immediacy waning or performance becoming ‘cooked’?
According to Barthes, via Clare Bishop in Artificial Hells ‘all authorships are multiple and continually indebted to others’. Is this a way of rethinking the ethics of appropriation related to verbatim performance even though Bishop’s focus is on participatory theatre? And what are the complexities of the role which Rimini Protokol terms ‘experts of the everyday’, those untrained, ‘real’ performers.
2 Performance pieces of verbatim work:
Curious Monkey and Northumbria University Year 3 Performing Arts students, directed by Steve Gilroy
Two highly engaging and at times disturbing pieces of work from very different contexts: the care system in the North East and Oklahoma City, 20 years on from the bombing. Both are derived from the use of verbatim interviews ‘learnt and imitated’ by the performers before being staged. But what are the generic skills which such a precise training produces – what is the the indirect training at work here? According to the highly articulate and seriously engaged students working on the latter piece: attention to detail, patience, empathy and ‘doing justice’ to the real source of their words: the people.
Jane Anfield and Kate Craddock
How far are the ethical challenges of documentary theatre and the challenges of speaking other’s voices ameliorated by layering on/in your own stories?
Alex Kelly: Third Angel – Telling other People’s Stories (Auto/biography)
How do you train and encourage artists working with autobiography?
1. Make the invitation genuine – or …. ‘I really want to hear that story you are telling’. What ever the story
2. Find the mechanism(s) – or …. ‘what is the mechanism by which you enable people to tell you a story? A mechanism which makes the telling easy’.
3. Listen. Really listen.
4. Ask yourself why …. because we are using other’s stories and our own and the motivations need to be clear. Perhaps even ask someone else to ask you why.
5. Remember the telling …. or it’s ok to rely on your own memory of the past.
6. Find your foil …. the person to ask the awkward questions. Someone to take away the scaffolding. Someone to set you homework. Someone to tell you to put your notes down.
Laszlo Pearlman – Practice-led research presentation
A short performance playing provocatively with ideas of revelation and questioning notions of the body as evidence. (I was a very poor dancer at the end – apologies Laszlo!)