Thursday, 11 March 2010

in situ: The Cherry Orchard Project - 2010 revival

The Cherry Orchard was the second in situ: production I saw and an odd one it was too.

Performed in a suburban house, the first act is played out on a sofa in the living room, the second act on the bed in the bedroom, the third act party alternates between the living and dining rooms and the final act happens on the stairs.

When not performing, the actors sit in a room playing cards and discussing the play, direct other cast members in re-enactments of scenes involving their own character, or wander around the house discoursing on various topics connected to the play and the performance.

This is the world of in situ:, where a professionally-run company trains non-professional actors through its Learn To Act course, then invites them to collaborate in creating a performance, improvised through a year-long exploration of the work in weekly classes.

Four years later, I've joined a revival of in situ:'s Cherry Orchard Project. This is the first of four productions revived to celebrate in situ:'s first ten years and King Lear, Macbeth and Twelfth Night will all follow later in 2010.

I'm taking over the role of Trofimov, a student revolutionary and former tutor who has suffered at the hands of the state for his outspoken views. This means a few long speeches to learn, but the style is intended to be naturalistic and we're expected to convey the story as we would speak, rather than the exact words as written down. It might sound easier, but it means you have to listen carefully to what the other actors say and respond, rather than simply awaiting a cue and barking out a pre-learned line. Repetition, stumbling over words and interruption are actively encouraged. Multiple conversations sometimes happen at the same time, or different scenes occur in parallel. This encourages the audience deeper into the performance. The party scenes genuinely feel like a party, while the leaving scenes on the stairs are cramped and chaotic, with the actors constantly coming and going in different directions.

We open on Tuesday night and I'm looking forward to it.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

The Winter's Tale 2009: Rehearsals finished

in situ:'s Winter's Tale group reassembled on Saturday to put the performance back together in a weekend. One actor not returning had been replaced with another member of the group who was unavailable for Saturday, so we spent most of the day revising the order of scenes and remembering the transitions.

Having spent two weeks revising lines, it was pleasing to note how well they were embedded in long-term memory, returning with a little coaxing, though many of the cast did two weeks of Twelfth Night a couple of weeks back and are finding another two weeks of performance more taxing.

On Sunday our new actor joins us, proving to have learned her lines to perfection, resulting in a collective sigh of relief which boosts the cast's confidence measurably. We run through the whole performance twice and there now is a definite collective sense that we can do this. I make several annoying mistakes, but console myself with the knowledge it's better to make them now than later. It gives me a sense what I still need to do to get my performance up - mainly relax, take my time and speak more clearly, not race through the lines.

On Monday evening there is time for a final dress rehearsal which goes well, boosting confidence further. We've done our best and must now open the doors and let the crowd in, but there is a strange lack of any sense of quanitifiable improvement. Last year's revival of Oedipus was very different, though we began with several specific improvements we wanted to make, resulting in a more cohesive production.

We'll just have to see what the public think..!

Friday, 12 June 2009

Bookmap: The Writer's Journey by Christopher Vogler

Legend has it this book originated as a seven-page memo outlining mythic structure for Hollywood studios.

In the memo, Christopher Vogler interpreted Joseph Cambpell's "The Hero with a Thousand Faces", the book in which "Campbell explores the theory that important myths from around the world which have survived for thousands of years all share a fundamental structure, which Campbell called the monomyth."

Vogler simplifies Campbell's more scholarly work into a practical handbook for writers. In a new preface to the second edition he answers critics who called The Hero's Journey formularic by saying it is a form, not a forumula. He goes on to make some interesting contextual points about its reception in "herophobic" cultures such as Australia and Germany. "Australians," he says, "distrust appeals to heroic virtue because such concepts have been used to lure generations of young Australian males into fighting Britain's battles..." while "...the legacy of Hitler and the Nazis has tainted the concept... distorted the powerful symbols to enslave, dehumanize and destroy."

A new section looking at several modern films in heroic context includes "Titanic", "The Full Monty" and oddly "Pulp Fiction". The latter doesn't naturally fit the form, so instead it's used to view the individual journeys of the three characters Jules, Vincent and Butch.

Monday, 26 January 2009

Why we must take risks: success from uncertainty

The article most recommended by Harvard Business Review readers last year was an interview with Ed Catmull of Pixar, the animation company behind Toy Story, A Bug's Life, Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Cars, Ratatouille and WALL-E.

Catmull talks about a studio head who thinks his problem is not in finding people, but ideas. Catmull disagrees, calling this "...a misguided view of creativity that exaggerates the importance of the initial idea in creating an original product."

His conclusion has a lot of resonance for business:

"...we as executives have to resist our natural tendency to avoid or minimize risks, which, of course, is much easier said than done. In the movie business and plenty of others, this instinct leads executives to choose to copy successes rather than try to create something brand-new. That's why you see so many movies that are so much alike. It also explains why a lot of films aren't very good. If you want to be original, you have to accept the uncertainty, even when it's uncomfortable, and have the capability to recover when your organization takes a big risk and fails. What's the key to being able to recover? Talented people! Contrary to what the studio head asserted at lunch that day, such people are not so easy to find."

Success comes from taking risks - avoiding them leads to mediocrity.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

"Welcome to the Creative Age" by Mark Earls - book review

Hugh MacLeod’s recent questions for Mark Earls prompted me to buy Mark’s first book "Welcome To The Creative Age – Bananas, Business and the Death of Marketing" - the book which Hugh says changed his life.

If I was expecting to be blown away from the first page I was disappointed. Instead, Mark builds his case about creativity through the first chapter until thirty pages in he’s exploding three popular myths about the so-called creative personality (they’re not prodigies, anti-social loners or one-offs who "just know what to do") and I’m hooked.

Mark goes on to outline the history of marketing and the emergence of branding. Illustrating his points with stories about IKEA, Brian Eno, ARM and Apple, he talks about the shortcomings of brands and why advertising doesn’t work how we think it does. He touches on complexity and psychology, the War for Talent and designing great places to work. And although he cites Collins and Porras, he acknowledges the criticisms of their work.

Some great points:

  • Commonsense should tell you that unless your company has at least 50% of the market, your results will be affected more by what other companies do in the marketplace than what your company does.
  • We need to abandon the "Analyse - Think - Talk (Do)" paradigm and replace it with "Believe – Do – Think – Talk – Do again".

And on how advertising works:

  1. "…advertising doesn’t tend to work by changing our opinions… What we think about a product tends to follow our usage behaviour, not the other way around"
  2. "…the most important contribution to effective advertising is the creative contribution (John Philip Jones)… it’s novelty and not the message itself."
  3. "the most likely advertising research measure to move in the real world… is… 'advertising salience' – the sense I get that this company is doing quite a bit of advertising these days, all of which knock the traditional awareness and persuasion measure into the sea (and rightly so)."

A fascinating book for anyone interested in where marketing might be heading.

Saturday, 26 July 2008

Oedipus Rex: Night 4 (Saturday)

The final night of Oedipus Rex at the Leper Chapel, the last night of in situ:'s 2008 Summer Season and the end of a two-and-a-quarter-year journey for the actors.

We started back in April 2006 with a handful of sketches which we worked up into performances and linked together over four terms of work. Last year's performance was an achievement for all of us, but when we reconvened a week ago we realised there was a lot of work to do. We all knew our lines, but the people who'd watched the video of last year's performance agreed it wasn't as good as we remembered (and it was filmed on what I thought was the best night!)

This year has been very different. The read throughs early in the rehearsals told us what we knew and what we needed to learn. The performance came together quickly, but soon exceeded what we'd previously attempted - partly by knocking about 20 minutes off, although no lines were removed.

It's hot again tonight, so we again drink plenty of water. But there are no nerves - and I don't even bother with a stroll to the toilet. And yet again we manage to perform at the same level as the previous two nights.

Someone tells us after that it's the first time they'd heard chorus work like ours and understood what is being said. Others are similarly complimentary.

We leave on a high and return to Richard's for the aftershow party. There are rumours of another Shakespeare next year. The Tempest? Or Twelfth Night? Whatever, it is looking unlikely that I will be taking part, but I do have other plans.

Friday, 25 July 2008

Oedipus Rex: Night 3 (Friday)

On the way to the chapel I hear on the radio that today is the hottest day of year so far. It certainly feels like it and we're all gulping down water after our vocal warm-up. Within five minutes of completing my discourse on Chinatown and its parallels with Oedipus Rex, I'm thirsty again.

I'm surprised by the consistency we're achieving, compared to last year - and even this year's performance of The Winter's Tale. Our performance level, increased through practise early in the week and cranked up by the opening night adrenaline, seems to have stuck at around 95% of the level of that opening evening. Everyone is confident and enjoying performing. And tomorrow's the last night...