Having spent an exciting few days recently further developing The Haunted Man, I’ve been thinking about the R&D process. After our session in August last year on very general explorations of the story’s potential, working with scenes Chris developed on his writing week, our next step was to explore key themes and the framing device, in particular looking at clarity of the narrative in its new form.
Supported once again by Proteus Theatre, a couple of weeks ago we spent 3 days working on honing visuals, puppetry, movement and structure, culminating in a work in progress showing at Proteus’s regular Friday night Theatre Lab.
Working towards showing something to outside eyes in a short time period can be daunting - it’s so easy to fall into thinking ‘its a performance!’ and get sidetracked by that rather than the creative exploration. Being aware of this we used the time in a very specific way and decided to work on only 3 or 4 scenes, each with a very particular purpose, or question in mind that we wanted to pose to the (paying!) audience.
For work-in-development, this can be an invaluable process, testing conventions, discovering what obstacles and challenges might come up in the full production, a sense check of how things sit with the audience and an opportunity to involve them in the shaping of the work (key to our ethos at Kindred). Yes, it can be scary (‘what if it doesn’t work….?’), but a hugely exciting opportunity as well. As performers we are often expert at reading our audience and adapting our performance in the moment, but rarely do we get the opportunity to ask for and receive direct feedback in creating the piece.
In this instance, the experience was overwhelmingly positive; many of the things we had planned to ask in the post show discussion were raised un-prompted by the members of the audience themselves - the theme of Dementia, juxtaposition of different timeframes, interaction of puppets with actors, the Dickensian text. There were some useful thoughts on design concepts, and even one suggestion from the audience that potentially solves a big challenge raised by the R&D. Likes and dislikes were explored, and at the end of the evening we were left energised, with a confidence and clarity of vision in where the production was heading.
We can be very protective of our creative ideas, and unwilling to let others into the process, but I would really urge you to be open to it - the whole can so often be greater than the sum of the parts.
If you’re planning on some R&D, devising or have a work-in-progress planned, some of our thoughts on what we’ve discovered are below.
1. Actors who are good for R&D need particular Skills - Huge imagination, freedom to explore, always inventing, ability to switch between broad brushstrokes and detailed work, not timid or fearful they need to produce something there and then every time, not be scared of failing.
2. Pinpoint what you need from the R&D, and aim not to deviate - If other things crop up note them to work on at another time. For example we wanted to test the concept for framing the piece, multi-layered dialogue, one character being played by a puppet, what presence the protagonist should have, how to make/show/represent the Phantom.
3. If there’s work-in-progress showing DO NOT think of it as a performance - work out exactly what you want to learn from the audience and make it clear it is work-in-progress. As part of the process you can give a brief explanation of each scene and what we has been worked on rather than make it a seamless presentation.
4. Be prepared but not OVER prepared - It’s a chance to play and discover. Come with questions to answer - everyone will have a different thought. Come with some ideas of how you’re going to explore, but try not to be too rigid or fixed in your process, respond to what comes up.
5. Look on negative feedback or criticism as CONSTRUCTIVE - An opportunity to address points that might alienate an audience. They may only be opinions, but do listen to them - sometimes objections thrown up can be the biggest creative opportunities.
And at the end of it all, with discoveries made and questions answered, you may not have everything set in stone, and in fact have further specific questions - R&D is an important tool to reach some goals in the creative process, but it can sometimes be really just the beginning.
Thirteen people sat by candlelight in a warm, newly opened cafe…… That was the beginning of our recent storytelling event, a new venture for both Kindred Theatre and our partner for the evening, Elsie Cafe & Deli in Crouch End, bringing together a group of people who had never met to share stories on the theme of 'New Beginnings'.
As someone who often plans rigorously, and though I had loosely prepared a story to share, I had purposefully attempted to not plan too much this time, as I wanted to be open and listen to what other people were saying (rather than be ‘rehearsing’ in my head) and respond to the atmosphere of the evening. And I'm glad that I did.
As a company, myself and fellow director Chris, have recently been talking a great deal about the work of Mike Alfreds, in particular the ethos of the 'shared experience’, something that is fundamental to the way Kindred Theatre works. We had hoped that at this even this present would take communal responsibility for sharing stories, sharing roles - audience and the 'performer' - and shape the night into whatever was wanted. And it felt like that happened.
Chris gave a short introduction to outline how the evening would work - if you wanted to share a story, you simply had to put your name on a bit of paper and put it into the box to be drawn out at random. No pressure, just if you felt like it - and more than half the group did.
The first thing I’m sure we all shared was a sense of trepidation - how would this work, would our stories be good, would we be any good? As one of our first story tellers Lisa put it, the rush of adrenalin was palpable. But everyone made that courageous step toward a new beginning, simply by stepping into the role and the unknown.
The stories themselves were great - eclectic in subject and telling style, and utterly transportive. There was an intimacy with us, the listeners, all of who were rapt and engaged. The power of the story took over, for both the teller and the listeners, and I felt an integral part of the story.
The evening was a poignant reminder that a story doesn’t exist or have purpose without a listener and that all that is needed for a connection to happen is something to say, someone to say it and someone to hear it. And when the stories you hear are real, personal and told utterly in the moment, you very easily recognise events and sensations, and connect them to your own life - it becomes a shared experience that we can all identify with.