'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.

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