'The Arrival' cast member Jackie Le blogging on tour!

Photo by Jackie Le Week One – The first day of rehearsals, I arrived to Circus Space overwhelmed by the huge welcoming committee already there. They were to introduce the new cast consisting of 1 actor and 7 circus performers for ‘The Arrival’ production directed by Kristine Landon-Smith from Tamasha Theatre Company in collaboration with Circus Space.

The cast – Actor Charlie Folorunsho, with Circus Performers – Antonio Harris, Gisele Edwards, Nektarios Papadopoulos, Antoinette Akodulu, Addis Williams, Sam Hague and myself.

We were lined up in the training space which would be similarly spaced out to the actual construction draft of the stage setting but not quite in the exact measurements. This we found out became to be difficult later on for some scenes. As we stood in front of roughly 30 people, we all introduced ourselves and what we did as a profession. Once the introductions and visual aspect of the stage setting were looked at, Kristine and Sita Brahmachari who scripted the play sat us down for a pre-rehearsal chat.

Kristine started us up on some improv work and positioned us to work on the major scenes we knew would be the most physically exerting. With some outsourced help, she had Freddie Opoku-Addaie to be our choreographer.

Freddie worked us hard. I admired his determination and ability to focus with such precision as he remembered each cast member’s sequence and set rhythms he had given us for certain scenes. He worked us till we remembered each sequence in our sleep. I vaguely recall at the time how hard it all was and how I would ever be able to remember the new counts he’d throw out at us, I’d become frustrated because I thought I wouldn’t remember. Now I thank him for drilling it into us as it’s been quite smooth sailing during show time.

Week Two – The second week was somewhat a blur and very similar to week one. Though we didn’t have to rehearse 6 days a week and on a Saturday. We went over everything we had begun to learn in week one and kept fine tuning little bits which were out of sync.

Week Three – The last week of rehearsals we were no longer at Circus Space. We were at The Hangar. A hard to get to place via public transport. It is an amazing training space although it is incredibly cold. Our beautiful stage designed by Adam Wiltshire was set up there. We adjusted some of our moves to the new set and by the end of the week managed to do complete runs of the show.

On Tour – Southampton was our first stop, we were to perform at The Nuffield Theatre within Southampton University’s Campus. The cast met the rest of the production team on Tuesday just after lunch to do lighting, audio visual, sound techs and how fast we could costume change including swapping microphones. We did this all of Wednesday morning into the late afternoon and did our first proper dress run Wednesday evening. Thursday we did a dress run in the morning, another dress run after lunch and had our first live performance with Q&A immediately after. Boy what a buzz that day was. Friday we only had an evening performance. The entire cast had gotten so used to seeing each other everyday rehearsing, it mind-boggled us to have the time off, we decided to meet for lunch before we did the Friday evening performance which was lovely, I have to say, I’ve grown to love each cast member and it has been nothing but delightful to see them and the production team everyday. Saturday we performed a matinee piece and an evening performance. Because Southampton was so cold, we all decided to catch a cab straight after the last show to the station and head back to London.

Next Stop – Coventry TBC…

Photo by Jackie Le

TDA Observer Lisa Peck on the 3 week rehearsals for 'The Arrival

In rehearsals Week one.

Noun. Spirit 1. The vital principle or animating force within living things. 2. The general atmosphere of a place or situation and the effect it has on people. 3. A fundamental emotional and activating principle determining ones character. 4. Animation in action or expression.

Kristine uses the word “spirit” often when talking to actors and as I sit in rehearsal on Day One of the Arrival this is the best way I can describe the quality in the room. The human spirit at the heart of Shaun Tan’s graphic novel is one of courage, fortitude and collective hope. It feels like it is in the room with us.

As Kristine uses ‘play’ to activate the sprit of the ensemble, beneath and between a canopy of ropes, wires and poles, these performers embark on their own journeys. What is striking to me is how play releases the individual and collective spirit. The mixture of camaraderie and competition animates the bodies and voices and opens up a genuine open and creative connection between people. The group plays volley-ball, tag and a chair game and during the hour of “playing well” so much work is done with so few words. People relax, listen, discover their default positions and diagnose themselves. Kristine is able to twist the keys, tune the chords and tighten the strings of the individual whilst everyone works together to define and enjoy the spirit they will need for the journey ahead and to find a shared understanding of that. What is particular is that Kristine is playing too, as referee, coach and competitor. I witness how important it is that a director enables and models the “spirit” they need in the rehearsal room.

Week two.

Noun: suspension.

1. A mixture in which fine particles are suspended in a fluid where they are supported by buoyancy. 2. A time interval where there is a temporary cessation of something. = break, intermission, interruption, pause. 3. The act of suspending something (hanging it from above so it moves freely). 4. An interruption in the intensity or amount of something.

The novel is the story of people suspended, physically and geographically and in memories of time, place, and people. The architecture of the circus and the movement sequences, which are being refined in week two, define these moments of suspension. It is in these’ moments between’ that so much about being human exists.

Bodies roll slowly across the floor as the boat creaks and the storm builds. The motion of the rocking ship suspends them for a moment before they are rolled the other way. With loss of balance and gravity bodies are tossed this way and that, desperately struggling to escape, climbing, balancing, dropping, hanging. What happens when gravity disappears and one is left suspended in that moment between, not knowing what the next moment will decide? Managing how to fall safely is fundamental to the circus performer and it at the heart of the poetry and poignancy of this story on an epic level and domestic level.

A mother climbs a rope to be on the same level as her son who is filled with anger and confusion. His father has just said goodbye. He is travelling to the other side of the world and leaving his family behind. The actions of the performers as they play out the argument between mother and son are mesmerizing and heart-breaking. No words are needed. The movement up and down the ropes and the suspended moments of decision, tension and confusion is so sensitive and moving.

Week three. Noun: Rhythm. 1. Something occurring at regular intervals. 2. The basic rhythmic unit in a piece of music. 3. An interval during which a recurring sequence of events occurs.

Intricate and detailed choreographed sequences take time to build and fix on the stage and Freddie Opoku-Addaie is working with the performers on the cockle picking scene. They have trays and rakes and scrape the sand with an almost hypnotic rhythm. As the sand is worked, trays are filled and emptied into the bucket, I am pulled into rhythm of work, of shared labour and our need for productivity, however precarious. This work is painstakingly detailed and the performers are counting sequences which, even having watched this scene in its various stages over the last three weeks, I still cannot decipher.

The show is packed with these extremely complex movement sequences where rhythm and timing is key. What makes these sequences so beautiful is the detail in the deconstruction of the rhythms. By “messing it up” a synchronsied or “held” form becomes human and identifiable and the subtlety of this defines the movement approach I see in rehearsal. The poignancy of failure, of flopping and of loosing ones balance is a defining human quality in this story.

In this final week the fine-tuning of these delicate rhythms takes over. The rhythm of an exit or entrance, the delivery of a line, holding of a moment and working with the musical score. Kristine has a heightened sense of these rhythms and how they affect the audience and at this stage she is orchestrating and conducting the rhythms of the show.

Thank-you Tamasha for your spirit and the opportunity to observe your process.

Rehearsal model box showing

TDA Assistant Lighting Designer on the Fit-up and Tech

The Arrival First day of fit up:

Today involved getting the lights in the air! Our challenge is to get the overhead fixtures up in the air as soon as possible so that the truss can be built.

Once that is up in the air we have been building booms, patching the desk, cutting colour whilst being mindful of how this will transfer from venue to venue.

It is really important to learn and absorb the different quirks to the lighting plan, and to learn what needs prioritising, what may take time/how long things take to do. All of this needs to be taken into consideration for the re-lights, I must know the rig inside out and learn how I can make it work in each venue.

Teching in Southampton:

So we are at the final stages of the technical rehearsals, everything is looking great and we have worked through without any huge problems.

Dennis and I have been working on the plans ready to send to the different touring venues, ensuring we have the right questions to ask and generally being as prepared as possible. The team changes now for the tour - no production manager, no lighting designer, so we must all fill each other in on how the show goes together.

Generally we are solving little problems and finding was around things, all working as a team to create a great show.

Very much looking forward to seeing the show now in dress rehearsal and we will go from there!

Tamasha gratefully acknowledges financial support from the Esmée Fairburn Foundation which has made this bursary possible.

In conversation with Shaun Tan, creator of illustrated novel The Arrival

We were thrilled to catch up with Oscar winner Shaun Tan whose cult illustrated novel The Arrival our forthcoming  theatre circus production is based on. What inspired you to create The Arrival? Does your family have a migration story? Yes, my own family history was definitely a key factor in my being attracted to immigrant tales in the first place. I guess I grew up in a mixed-race family without thinking much of it, having an Australian mum and Chinese dad was just normal. Sometimes I wonder if that has given me a certain perspective that's been useful later on as an artist and writer, a sense that there's no absolute 'normal', that reality is adjustable. Anyway, Dad has many interesting anecdotes about migrating from Malaysia to Western Australia in the 1960s, which I only appreciated myself once I started travelling internationally as an adult. I also realised that a lot of the things I'm trying to do as an artist, looking at my native environment from a certain objective distance, is something that immigrants are routinely doing anyway. In other words, a way of seeing between artists, writers and immigrants is very similar, an acute awareness of everyday strangeness, a necessary attentiveness to primary experience.

You work in a medium which transcends language - do words or written stories ever inspire your work? Yes, very much so. In spite of it's 'silence', The Arrival began life as a long set of written notes based on researched immigrant stories. I was looking for further anecdotes and trying to find points of intersection, those feelings and situations that seemed universal to all immigrants, like homesickness or bureaucratic troubles, confronting food and difficulty with language or customs. I then tried to extrapolate those universal points of internal and external drama into pictures that might equally relate back to every specific anecdote, and removing words, context and even realism was one way of doing that. I'm actually a very wordy person and originally wanted to be a writer rather than an illustrator as a teenager. It just so happens that I'm often now attracted to stories that are best told visually, and I find these come more naturally to me as well.

 Your illustrated novels are enjoyed all over the world. Why do you think they resonate so universally? I've noticed the older I get, the more interested I am in a minimal approach to telling stories, whether that means stripping back the details or just making them very short. That in turn appears to engender broader appeal. What I think is happening is that I'm intuitively making more allowances for the reader to invest their own imagination into the work, rather than trying to tell them what to imagine (as a younger artist, I mistakenly believed that this was the purpose of art-making, having a 'message'). I think story-telling is not about communication or even resolution of an idea, it's rather about simply inspiring others to consider universal things and feelings in their own way.

How does it feel having your work adapted and interpreted in different mediums as with this piece? It makes me feel that the work is successful, that it has its own changing life, it grows. You know a story is a good one when it has a certain autonomy to it, as if you are just borrowing ideas to carry for a while, before passing them on to someone else. You don't own or control the material, but instead hope it will evolve, even in unpredictable ways. It's particularly rewarding when that interpretation happens across media, reinventing its form, attracting new ideas, and hopefully reaching a new audience too. There's also a slight concern if you are doing graphic novels that you are working in a certain ghetto of interest, and it's nice to see those boundaries dissolve.

What's next for you? Any forthcoming projects you can tell us about? I'm working with the producer of our Oscar-winning short film The Lost Thing on a feature-length project based on The Arrival, although it's still in a very early and speculative phase. This would be yet another interpretation of story concepts that is likely to significantly depart from the original book, simply because the medium is so different, so quite a challenge. Currently I'm finishing work on a new picture book (which does have words, but not many) called Rules of Summer. I wasn't so sure what it was about when I started it a couple of years ago, but it seems to deal largely with the paradoxes of many sibling relationships, the odd mix of love and rejection that kids might know particularly well (adults too of course). My wife and I are expecting our first baby in the middle of the year, so that's really the next big project!

For more information, visit www.shauntan.net Book tickets for the Tamasha production here

'The Arrival' Rehearsals - Week 1

New Image3 John Walton - observer

I spent Monday, Thursday and Friday morning sitting in on rehearsals this week. Monday was a huge affair - with all the performers, creative team, production team, admin team, observers and Circus Space staff crammed into the Creation Studio. Adam presented his beautiful set in model-box form, and Kristine said a few words about the decisions and process that had been taken in the many years it had taken to bring the project to full production. Once the throng had dispersed, the performers had been measured up for costumes and final bits of rigging installed, it was just Kristine, the cast and a few others left in the room. The final leg of the journey was about to begin.

Coming back on Thursday, what was remarkable was how much the predominantly circus-trained cast had so fully responded to Kristine's way of working. In the games that started the morning, they were totally committed to play that was full-bodied and total - yet still retained lightness and grace, fun and trickery. It is rare to see a company of actors having so much fun together. As a similarly impressed member of the production team put it, "actors try to find the intention, these guys just go for it". This immediacy and open attitude was clearly shifting over into their on-stage work. The improvisations were simple yet full-bodied, the acting clear and elegant. On Friday, when I started to hear some of the voice-overs, I began to see what a unique production this will be, one that challenges convention by fusing movement, text, music, voice-over, projection and circus-skills. It sent shivers down my spine.

New Image2

Observership on 'The Arrival' at Alchemy Festival at Southbank Centre

As someone who is experimenting with visual arts, performance art & new circus crossover, I was curious about the showcase performance of Tamasha’s the Arrival at the Alchemy Festival, Southbank. I applied for the observership as I thought it could be a fantastic opportunity to witness a week of rehearsals leading to 9 performances at the Royal Festival Hall and to be a part of the creative process in such an unusual and site specific situation. The rehearsals were open to all and the staging of the production unfolded to passersby each day. It was a privilege to observe director Kristine Landon-Smith at work, leading a team of creatives, to be able to meet and engage with all the performers and the production team on a daily basis.

The daily rehearsals, which were fully open to the public, took place in the RFH foyer’s space on the 2nd floor, in front of large glass walls, surrounded by staircase, a lift and a seating area. The performance spot was rigged with circus apparatuses: 2 poles, silks, straps, rope and slack-rope all neutral in colour (black and white).These formed a part of the stage design together with a number of subtly suspended white paper birds and an enlarged sepia portrait illustrations out of Shaun Tan’s graphic novel.

The working conditions seemed quite challenging, with largely no rehearsal space privacy whatsoever. The director, choreographer, performers and production team needed to be able to block out the constant passing by and visitor interactions with the space, and the festival as a whole. One needed to be ‘in the zone’, concentrated fully on the task rather than on a flux of external stimuli ranging from frequent loud sounds of events happening in the space nearby (workshops, concerts and performances), through toddlers running into the rehearsing area, to the people ascending / descending the staircase and just general mingling of the public. What was remarkable is that Kristine as a leader kept calm, clear in her intentions and directions. She held absolute charge of the rehearsal process and schedule, assisted by production manager Tom’s attention to organisational detail.

My main focus during the observership was to see how a professional and experienced director works on a production that merges circus with theatre and visual arts. I was interested to particularly observe the following areas:

  • how a theatre director negotiates ways of rehearsing a circus / theatre performance piece and interacts with not only performers but the whole creative and technical crew
  • how  a work inspired by initial source that is purely visual, develops into a theatrical production
  •  the dramaturgical possibilities in site-specific performance
  • how one negotiates and organises timescale and the logistical needs and practicalities of such a process

A collaborative approach to creation of such a cross over genre is clearly essential. Kristine employed a talented young choreographer, Freddie Opoku-Addaie, whose role was to take care of the physical aspects of the performance - the football and a ship scene in particular. She also had Circus Space’s acrobatics lecturer, Glen Stewart, as an adviser present at a few of the rehearsal sessions. It was a joy to witness scenes being constructed and how the whole collaborative team interacted at ease, as Kristine is a very encouraging director for both her performers and collaborators.

Each circus performer devised their physical role and then fine tuned it under Kristine’s direction to suit the scene. The text, which referred to real life migrant and refugee accounts, was poetically scripted by Sita Brahmachari and beautifully delivered by the actors, Charlie Folorunsho as the lead character in particular. The role of music and sound was here crucial too as it evoked the external and inner landscape through which the characters were navigating and added a further emotional impact to the performers’ presence and movement.

It’s a shame that in this instance lighting couldn’t be employed – together with the noise pollution in my opinion, a major obstacle for working in such site-specific circumstances. As one can’t expect to have total control of one’s stagecraft as in a more conventional theatrical space, I felt that intimate and more poetic moments of the show and their dramaturgical impact got lost during some performances due to the ever present institutional light and competing festival sounds.

What I got from this week is a real insight into the complexities of working with a professional company in site-specific circumstances with the looming pressure of a deadline – which in my opinion is simultaneously limiting and enhancing. I realised what a physical toll such an intense work schedule takes on all, and especially on circus performers. In such a working environment, it is crucial to find ways of keeping the energy levels and focus up as the 3 performances were spread throughout the afternoon and the evening. The physical toll and aforementioned problems with noise and lack of control over lighting are however counterbalanced by the sheer amount of exposure this showcase gave to all involved.

Being a part of the Alchemy festival in the centre ofLondonbrought many thousands of people closer to the work and skills of Tamasha and Circus Space creatives, many of whom are probably new audiences for Tamasha, intercultural theatre and for circus/ theatre crossover in general.

Lara Ritosa Roberts - Observer

Sita Brahmachari - Diary of a week of Flying

For Sita's blog, please visit her page at: http://www.sitabrahmachari.com/

A week that flew past - The Arrival

Tamasha and Circus Space present  The Arrival. A second year degree show at Circus Space.

Wednesday July 6th 2011

We took the overland into Old Street and I was able to show everyone the derelict house in Finsbury Park that I've always imagined that Obi in The Arrival (on the left in the photo) bought in the sixties and gradually renovated to become a refuge for new arrivals in Britain. This morning at breakfast the children were still talking about the show. My youngest daughter (aged six) asked  me if, when I wrote the story, I was thinking of Granddad. Children always amaze me with their insights.

My eldest daughter said it's the kind of theatre people her age want to see. My son said 'yeah, actually Mum it was really good!' Praise indeed! They're going back to see it with some of their mates on Saturday. They loved the fact that the work was an ensemble melding images, text, circus art, choreography, music and acting. It's been a privelege to see this piece brought to life by the energy and skill of so many wonderful artists and actors.

Thursday 7th July 2011

Grahame Barker-Smith author of FArTHER (Winner of the Kate Greenaway award for children's literature) come along to the show. This is what he said about the work...

"The words, though spare, were beautifully weighted and apt. This was a feeling that ran through the whole piece, nothing overpowered, not the projection or the music, nor the words or the performers evidently advanced acrobatic skills. The acting too was measured and focused, but all together it expressed something that built from beginning to finish, like the making of an edifice, until what you had was something that satisfied and lingered in the mind. The experience of being an immigrant - though not my experience - was contactable somewhere inside me through the power of this art. It evoked a sort of unbidden empathy. Only something made and performed with heart, intellect and energy can do that." Louise Millar who is to publish her amazing novel 'Playdate' (Macmillan) next year also came along with me. We were both remembering when we set up our writing group to share our work, with no real thought that either of us could realise our dreams to be published.

Friday 8th July

Didn't go to the show because my son was performing at his school fundraiser and I had to chop vegetables for the BBQ! He played in a band and solo and he seemed to have his very own fan club (other than his Mum) cheering him on. There were so many talented young people performing their work. It made me think of the bravery of performers and artists who give something from very deep in themselves to their work. At some level we all draw on our own experiences in expressing an artistic vision.

This is a particular skill that Kristine Landon-Smith has as a director, to bring the culture, background, language, history and skill of the individual artist to the texture of their work. In the case of The Arrival a company of international multi-lingual circus artists and actors are bringing themselves and their extraordinary art of flying and falling to a narrative about the eternally human story of migration. Kristine and I wanted the piece to explore, as Tan's novel does, how this city and so many countries in the world are built through the imagination and work of generations of migrants. Obi, the old man in The Arrival is at the end of his life but he looks through memory's porthal and remembers the moment of Arrival as if it was yesterday…

"Mists of memory, fog, what did they call it? Smog, fog... so dense I felt as if I was falling through clouds. Then through the rain mist I saw it for the first time, just like in a story book, text book, all glittering, the river flowing through the centre, and I think yes, this is my dream to make a home in this country... to bring my wife and son here.."

Saturday 9th July

My daughter and friends made it to the show... just! (leaving three seconds to spare!) having got carried away in the vintage clothes shops in Camden Town! I want to thank all the friends and colleagues who came along. There's nothing like having the people who've shared part of your history and helped you on your way, come and see the artistic work you're engaged in.

Some friends came along with their children. At the moment when Kat, the trapeze artist flew, I watched the children's faces.... they were literally lit up with the exhilaration of  live flight.  It's wonderful to think that we might be able to create a show that appeals across age ranges.

My human rights activist friend Simon (name check Simon inArtichoke Hearts) said the storm at sea was like watching a Fellini film. Sunday 10th July

Took my youngest to Queen's Wood because she wanted to fly on the swing suspended from the great oaks. It's too late for me (even though, since working on this show I have taken to getting on this swing when out on my morning run, if there is no one else around!) Watching her arch her back and glide through the air looking up through the leafy canopy the thought occurred to me that one day we may have a daughter run away to the circus!

Today I've been thinking about honing the narrative, pulling through threads of the storyline and exploring what's next in developing this piece into the full blown show along with the wonderful collaborative artistic team we are building... and all of us inspired byShaun Tan's wonderful graphic novel.

Kristine- Landon Smith – Director Sita Brahmachari - Script Adam Wiltshire - Designer Felix Cross - Composer Mike Furness - Sound Designer Rita Ray - Sound Artist Barry Lewis - Projection Designer LX Designer - Andy Purves Image Consultant - Gerry Pilgrim

With thanks to Ice and Fire (A company exploring Human Rights Stories Through Perfomance) for giving  us access to Verbatim stories of contemporary refugees and economic migrants. Some of these stories have been integrated into The Arrival . iceandfire.co.uk/

Watch out for Tamasha Theatre Company and Circus Space staging of the full production of The Arrival in 2012 -The Olympic Year. (Co-created by Kristine-Landon Smith and Sita Brahmachari incorporating the work of a host of extraordinary artists.) For updates look up:www.tamasha.org.uk/

Actor's response to 'The Arrival'

“Having been part of the first workshop stage last year, it was extra special for me to come back to Roshini and The Arrival. Coming in at week 3 of rehearsals to a new company of circus artists, a new actor to play alongside, a new script and a new set design was quite a welcome! From the very first rehearsal, I could see the mammoth amount of work and detailed effort that Kristine and Sita have dedicated in building on the momentum of that initial workshop week and moving this developmental process forward.

It was such a joy and privilege to work with the company and creative team-- I spent most of the time in awe at the amount of talent in the room. For not having known each other for that long, we quickly became a very strong and solid ensemble. It was lovely to see how the circus artists gradually became more confident and grounded in their abilities as actors-- it added another layer of detail and depth to their physical performance which was really beautiful to watch. It never ever felt like Okezie and I as the actors were working by ourselves on stage. Some of the most beautiful moments of the piece were found in those collaborations between circus and drama, the circus performer and the actor. The Ship scene has always been one of my favourites and is a perfect example of how richly you can create a world on stage with artists of different disciplines.

The key to this production is the depth of detail. Nothing was overlooked - the moving musical compositions, the beautiful projected images that accompanied the play, the striking yet simple set design, the harrowing sound effects and effective lighting all played such a key part in heightening the work on stage.

It really was such a privilege to be part of this process. Shaun Tan created something very special with The Arrival and the incredible feedback that we've had from our audiences, many of whom were moved to tears by what they saw just confirms that. The story holds such a strong resonance for not only those with an immigrant history, but for anyone who's been brave enough to search for greater things in life.”

Shalini Peiris - Actor in 'The Arrival'

“When I was asked to take part in Tamasha's and Circus Space's fusion of theatre and circus I jumped at the chance. The concept seemed very unique to me and I was fascinated as to how it would work. I am happy to report that it didn't disappoint, certainly from my (as a performer’s) point of view and I've been told from an audience’s point of view as well.

I was hugely impressed by the skill level, in their various disciplines of the 2nd year students at Circus Space. But what impressed me most was that as rehearsals progressed, the students were able to find a focus in the performing (of their skills) and acting that for me brought a different dimension to what we traditionally think circus to be; they really took me (whenever I could watch) on their individual journey and consequently gave real depth to the work we were trying to produce.

Kristine Landon-Smith created something quite filmic and beautiful, something difficult to comprehend during rehearsal; until I saw the set, costume, lighting and sound in full. It really does have the 'wow' factor.

Kristine and Sita Brahmachari (writer), along with the circus artists and performers, have brought to life Sean Tan's amazing images in a non conventional way that, in my opinion, works beautifully.

I believe that the only fair thing would be for the piece to grow a little bit more to a full blown production and be in a wonderful space that is deserving of it. Bring on 2012. Whether I'm involved or not I’ll certainly be buying a ticket, it will be phenomenal.”

Okezie Morro – Obi  in 'The Arrival')

Observers on ‘The Arrival’ – Weeks 3 & 4

“So, as I sat down to write this, I thought - 'how can I transfer all of my reflections into just a few paragraphs..?' However, it soon became clear, that what's even more important is my own personal journey within this process... And it's been an incredible one...!

During one rehearsal, I remember Kristine saying to the group; ' this show is a series of beautiful images' and that is most definitely true. I've been particularly struck by the beautiful aesthetics, and the real simplicity of the images that frame the scenes..

Learning to become an ensemble is a real skill. Through the process, these talented circus artists have opened and grown together to become just that - an ensemble. While the hands-on approach of play, and really looking at the performers to see what they individually and collectively need, has remained the same, what has changed, has been the opening and expansion to incorporate and hold all of their circus disciplines as well. This nurture, and real understanding of what is needed at any given time, helped to create and consolidate real trust in the room, whilst also building an ensemble energy - vital ingredients for any theatrical piece.

Observing the process this time around, things just fell into place even more. That wonderful, yet essential marriage of doing as much prep/research as is needed, and then whilst in the room, allowing things to simply unfold, with the trusting of instincts (both the director's and the actors’), and the careful set-up of play and improvisation. And with each layer, the piece becomes more alive and thrilling. One instance where this happened for me was the use of the actors’ cultural context. This often helps to bring a piece of theatre to life, as the text automatically becomes very 'full' and alive. And whilst the use of the cultural context is one layer, it can often inform, and expose further layers.

And what a thrill it is to watch a circus artist in their zone, with their discipline... from the adrenaline-fuelled flying trapeze, to the beautifully graceful cloud swing. These are images I'll never forget! They evoke such powerful emotions.

I've always loved how we don't need words to create or express an emotion, and this piece is a prime example of that. Scenes were created with such simplicity and sensitivity, using the circus disciplines, playing with levels/heights, and adding delicate music - the experience is a feast for the senses - a kaleidoscope of emotional colour.

'That for which we have words is already dead in our hearts.' 

Renu Arora - Observer

“The opportunity for an emerging artist to observe a professional production from start to finish is an incredibly valuable experience. As a huge fan of Kristine’s practice the observership has allowed me to get close and personal to a true representation of her practice.

Each day I arrived at Circus Space, I would have my morning coffee in the Juggler and decide one thing to focus intensely on for that day.  However no matter how much I chose something different the focus always boiled down to Language and instincts. As I sat pensively on the gym mat at 9:45 on a Tuesday morning, I closed my eyes and listened intently to Kristine’s voice:

“Right we’re just going to do the street scene again this morning to 11 o’clock”

“It will be a bit tedious, but if you commit 120% then it will move along very quickly, it’s already looking very good, and then you can have a  twenty minute break.”

“And because I’m so nice we are only going to work to 3 o’clock today, so you can have extra time for training. So can we all get ready for the street scene”

The sheer clarity struck me. In one swoop Kristine had set up the morning, informed everyone what to expect, instilled her own confidence and set up a reward system. It would seem that Kristine’s approach of ‘Actor Led’ is mirrored in her rehearsal room direction as well. Her decisions were born from an ability to sense how the group was feeling each morning and afternoon, and from there deciding what she would need to do in order to work well. This can be a scary thing for some directors, because it is so open to the moment and anything could happen, or change rather.

For me it has been particularly integral part of my development as a young director to undertake the observership shortly after the Actor / Directors Lab. I remember hearing certain phrases and small details that Kristine had said, but never really being able to make sense of them. Well, not until The Arrival.

For example, she always spoke about not ignoring what is happening in the rehearsal room. On day three of The Arrival, the session was stopped and everyone one was called into a circle. As I watched Kristine, I observed the students meddling nervously with their shoe laces.

“As a director it is important for me to address a resistance in the rehearsal room, when there is one, and find a way to dissolve it, as it can be very hard to continue and have a really fruitful process if it does not get resolved at an early stage. So I just wanted to call this circle to invite you all to come and tell me how you are feeling about this project at the moment? Is this what you had expected, are you happy, are there things that really work for you? etc”

From far right of the circle a voice appears, “I am really enjoying the process, but to be honest I was expecting there to be more circus. It seems that it’s more ‘theatre with circus’ rather than ‘circus with theatre’. Personally for me I find it a bit weird we have to justify all our tricks through a narrative, especially as circus is such an abstract thing already”

From that moment on an escapade of hopes, fears and worries cascaded into the middle of the circle. As I observed Kristine tackle them head on, sometimes faltering, sometimes succeeding to stretch their minds, it became more apparent to me just how important and unavoidable this discussion was. From this point on the road was a lot smoother, the minds of the performers more flexible and the director had gained the company’s trust.

It is integral that a rehearsal room is set up correctly, and what Kristine does so well and courageously is recognise the individual needs of each person on board the project, and face emotions and dilemmas head on.

This was the most profound part of my journey as an observer, and it is certain things like this you cannot learn through a book, teaching or advice, but only through demonstration.

Thank you Tamasha for an exhilarating experience that will forever contribute to my work as an Artist."

Anna Nguyen - Observer

“For a process that had so many ideas, theories and images, to consolidate this into words seems too difficult. I entered the process very eager and enthusiastic about the experiences ahead of me. I leave the research and development still eager and even more enthusiastic about my endeavours.

Kristine approaches her work with such an open mind. Each day offered a new improvisation and a fresh exploration, conquering the ambiguity of creating something tangible.  I was particurly taken back by the vast amount of research that has gone on before we even entered this space. This was so easily seen in how Kristine approached working with the students. It added ease in the rehearsal room; all that the performers needed to do was to trust Kristine and the team at Tamasha. To trust the director’s vision is always at the centre of any work, as once this is established, something unique happens. After a discussion I had later with Kristine, she acknowledged this moment when addressing the street scene. Unfortunately I was away this day, so I saw this moment at a later time in the process. On entering the rehearsal room at the final stages before performance, it felt dramatically different. The trust was so apparent and strong. The space was one of excitement, anticipation yet conclusion. The set was so cleverly matched with the narrative and formula of the piece.

Shaun Tan’s The Arrival images were so brilliantly utilised and expanded. The birds suspended from the ceiling covering the right-hand side of the space were an artwork in itself. The images carefully crafted by Kristine were ever evolving ‘stills’, lifting off the page of The Arrival and into the physical. The structure and order of the scenes exposed the trap of this constant and universal cycle of immigration. Yet as I left the performance it felt like just a taster of what is to come. For this I wait as I started, just as eager and enthusiastic.”

Alice Jordan - Observer

Observers on ‘The Arrival’ – Week 2

"We hit the ground running this week with frameworks for all the major scenes. The process of building up the layers – images, movement, circus skills, text, storytelling and soon sound, costume and projection – is necessarily slow. However, more and more I think that everyone is beginning to understand and thrive within this system of working. Image by image and moment by moment, Kristine is allowing the performers to find their own way of telling their part of the story while not losing a sense of ensemble and bigger stage picture.

I came into this process for various reasons but one key question for me to explore was how does one organically incorporate circus skills into a narrative – or vice versa. Of course the book, The Arrival, has come first and has provided inspiration for Kristine, Sita and the other members of the creative team. So how is Kristine incorporating the performers into what was already a strong artistic and aesthetic vision? I have enjoyed how much she gets involved, whether in the volleyball warm-ups, nurturing an improvisation or energetically demonstrating the style of movement necessary. Not all directors I have worked with have been so “hands on”, and this is a way of working that really appeals to me. I think it has also won over the company. So, although scenes and structure may have been decided before rehearsals began, in the rehearsal room it is crucially the performers who are given freedom to improvise, contribute to text, voice ideas and hone their routines. Going back to the comments from last week about director and performer/actor each offering something that the other can’t do, I think it is important for a director of circus to acknowledge that the circus artist knows infinitely more about their discipline and use this to the advantage of the process.

I have also been interested in the way that the performers’ own languages have been used so regularly. As text is generated by them and captured by Sita, they are often encouraged to improvise in Polish, Spanish, French, Arabic... Obviously in a play about generations of immigrants toLondonthis works well, but there is something else happening here too. There is little artifice and the performers are often “being” as opposed to “acting”. For a group with some initial resistance to “acting”, they are now doing just that simply by playing in the space. I would be very interested to watch Kristine work on an already established text that couldn’t necessarily be adapted so freely.

My favourite moment from week two came on Friday when we worked on each scene we had in chronological order. The section where Obi, the father, leaves his son inNigeriawas particularly moving. It was a potent combination of music composed by Felix Cross, simple text, and movement created by Antonio on the Chinese Pole. It will be a powerful example of how circus can be used within a narrative and for me highlighted what this process is all about. When I see, for example, Kat perform an incredible trick on the Cloud Swing (I could name check anyone in the company here), my immediate reaction is consistently one of raw amazement and total engagement. This is something I experience less commonly watching a “conventional play” in a theatre. Maybe by combining the disciplines, the one can enhance the other. There is also something thrilling about being in a rehearsal room where a normally impossible instruction such as “Climb that ladder upside down, fly across the room performing a somersault and land in a double back flip” (!) can become real. This observership is opening my eyes to so many possibilities and I am certainly keener than ever to pursue the idea of directing circus."

Amy Draper - Observer

“In sitting down to write this blog I found myself striving for the revelatory idea or erudite comment that would illuminate the development and creativity of the last fortnight in the rehearsal room.

And I strove and strove. And still I couldn’t think of anything, which was puzzling because I knew so much had happened, being in the rehearsal room was thrilling because of the physical skill of the artists and the delicacy of this new language of circus narrative that was being cultivated, so much that was exciting and incredible. So why was writing about it so hard? So instead I paused and looked at the photographs that my fellow observer Anna Nyugen had taken of the rehearsal process.

And then I saw the most important thing about these two weeks - and the most important thing I had learned from Kristine: look at your actors, look and really see, not what is wanted by the director but what is needed for the actor.

And what I saw were images of raw skill and moments of company play and a depiction of a director immersed amongst these artists involved in candid conversations with the cast. And what I recalled instantly, was the amazing development of the last two weeks of these highly skilled individuals into a great ensemble, tentative forays into acting were now captivating scenes which held the entire room, and how these circus artists had found some real moments of beauty and emotion in the narrative from their skill.

And again things sort of ‘clicked’, like when I was on last year’s Actor/Director Lab. I understood that even though the cultural context may have other layers involved now (as well as different nationalities, the individual performers’ disciplines inform this) the process of playing with the actor and seeing what is needed for them has not changed, just as the frame of working has expanded to encompass the scale of work being created. I saw that play was still essential, and trust me when I say that seeing a skilled circus artist in full flight (sometimes literally) playing with their discipline in an improvisation is incredible to watch; improvisations were still set up and played and moments that they created were captured and cultivated. And that patience and courage is required by both performer and director, the patience to afford both the chance to exercise their skill in complement to the other - although the rate at which we work is highly swift and efficient - and the courage of both to stay the course even when one is uncertain where it may lead but definite that there is something there to discover.

The resolve to trust one’s own instincts is great to watch in any artist but the instinct to trust another’s is the mark of a great artist. I have seen that this fortnight.”

Ian Nicholson - Observer

Observers on 'The Arrival' - Week 1

"The more I watch this process, the more seduced I am by the art of circus. It is simply phenomenal watching the performers practice with their equipment and I find myself asking why are we so enthralled by circus? What is it about the Circus that is so awe-inspiring?

This investigation into the marriage of Circus and Storytelling is brand new, and really exciting. As we come towards the end of week one, I ask myself, will this marriage work – can there be the perfect use of circus skill to advance an emotionally sophisticated story?

“I’m curious also”

Today was an interesting warm up into the collaborative process of creating The Arrival. It was interesting hearing the circus artists describe themselves as “curious”.  I suppose we are all curious – this is a real investigation into the possibilities of mixing styles, disciplines and practices and this afternoon I believe we began to see how this could work – as we create a storm on the deck of a ship.

Three girls sleep in their aerial hoops, swinging gently in the wind, when they are thrown off at the impact of the wave, two artists search for their rope and straps, dangling from above and begin to climb to the sky for safety.  A huge whirlwind in the form of the German Wheel captures one man in its spin and velocity. Seeming out of control, the performer demonstrates a physical skill whilst also capturing the emotional narrative of this storm – and this is what the project is searching for, and perhaps what the artists are curious about.

It is an integration of the circus skills – which are very impressive – and the theatrical power of well told, emotionally sophisticated stories.

I am excited. And I’m curious also. It has made me think about my own practice. How does a successful chorus come together?

This is a new venture – the marriage of great circus skill with a strong, well told story, in a landscape the audience is able to emotionally invest in. And it begs the question: do we emotionally invest in circus? As an artist said, their work is a heightened reality, magical. My heart leaps to see the girl on the Cloud Swing, or the performers climb the Chinese pole with no effort. Is this awe enough? Can it be mixed with theatre which ignites a different appetite in audiences?

This is a voyage of discovery and I heard Kristine ask one of the performers on Monday - what can I give you? She asks again today, in the creation of a form of Jive on the Chinese pole - what can you give me?

I think this is a new conversation in the performance world, and the performers are starting to answer – as one boy cycles through the street, never looking up from the newspaper he is reading or the apple he is eating – a lively and new performance."

Hebe Reilly - Observer

Observers on 'The Arrival' - Week 1

"Kristine is creating such a strongly image based work that it’s a real pleasure to watch. It feels very filmic in that she is setting up a scene almost like how I imagine you would set up a shot for film… putting all the elements in place and then seeing how it plays out. We’ve worked on a total of five scenes thus far: the boat scene (including a storm at sea), the football game, a street scene, a factory scene and a farewell scene between father and son.

Each scene has a distinctive feel to it and I really am impressed by how much Kristine gets in amongst the performers to develop and explore ideas. A great deal of thought and preparation has clearly gone into the work and yet each scene seems fresh and in the moment.

When Sita comes in as a writer, she has thus far not handed any text to the performers. She has, quite to the contrary, come in, listened and watched improvisations and captured text that she then takes a way and integrates into the script. In that way the work is always very close to the performers.

More and more, heightened moments incorporating the performers’ skills, or 'tricks' as they call them, are starting to emerge. Acrobatics are used to express spontaneous bursts of emotion, a hula-hoop act expresses casual indifference, and people are running across the space, swinging on ropes, doing hand stands or walking up a pole, always in carefully selected moments. All the artistry is tied into what is happening in the emotional narrative of the piece – playfully deliberate.

I have thus far worked primarily on text based work and even when I’ve devised work, the spoken text is what drives the story forward. I think that has led perhaps to more or less linear work. The Arrival seems to be different, sure there is a story line that threads its way through from one scene to the next, but at the same time it’s all so three dimensional, so vivid and visually satisfying.  It just looks like a lot of fun to come into the rehearsal room and construct these living images in collaboration with these fantastic performers.

What has also struck me is the force and beauty of the performers’ presence. They are all highly trained physically and come into the space with such a strong physical presence. They all have their own disciplines as well, which often involves some piece of equipment (hoops, straps, rope, pole, cycle, you name it) that they have a special relationship with. Then there’s a real joy in playing that they all seem to share. Every free minute they have they seem to use to warm up, work on their equipment or play around on someone else’s equipment. The trampolines at the back of the space get a lot of use in breaks. It is going to be very exciting to see how this joy of play, integrated into the narrative arch of the production, is going to work in performance. One week down, two (and a bit) weeks to go before we get there. Can’t wait!"

Arne Pohlmeier - Observer