Notes on Some Persons, Starting to Crack

Commissioned April 2013 by Exeter University and Exeter Northcott for RAW: Emerging Artists Platform and Ignite Festival
"Mesmerising and technically very strong. Subtle use of music and overdubbing lent a richness to 
[the] text…a soliloquy with hints of soul and eloquence" - Roger Jarman, Wildfire

David has something to say, about love, loss and glaciology. Something filled with cheap vagaries and a parade of possibly apocryphal animal stories. It feels a bit like stand up, but the jokes are rubbish and there isn't really much of a punch line. 
He knows that she's part of it, as is Diarmuid, and there's ice, lots of ice. 
He's not sure how it's all going to come across, or how he got here. 
Just sit down - let the melt water wash over you.

Written and performed by theatre-maker Gareth Morgan, Notes… is one man's struggle with being alive, playing two parts at the same time and how to embark on a journey without an actual destination. 

Below is my 'blog' which served as an online documentation of the show's creation and rehearsal process.

Dear Writer - a critical letter

posted 19 Jun 2013, 08:55 by Gareth Morgan

Dear Gareth,
You're writing this after the show at the Northcott - you began writing it the day after. You are entirely decaffeinated after spending the last three weeks on a coffee and sugar free Relentless high. You ache, but you're pleased with how Notes… went. You're pleased by the willingness of others to support you when you asked them to. You are pleased with yourself.

Hopefully you are reading this after the completion of your dissertation, it may have been marked. I hope we did well. Notes… has been locked away in a drawer for a few months, stewing.

That said, there are several things that have been raised by audiences, by Kol, by tingles in the back of your neck, nagging feelings in the back of you mind.

That's not to say that people didn't like it - They did. Audiences liked the bits with the performer talking about the dates and the bits on the penguins and courgettes - the detail here helping the drama. People enjoyed the research elements and the idea of changing who you are in front of an audience, and they enjoyed the film idea and particularly how you staged it with a level of symmetry.

But, it needs a fine dramaturgical tooth-combing.

The show's 'signposting' of where we are as an audience, where we are going, perhaps needs developing - a little more clarity around the structure of the piece, although did you mean to do this? In terms of feedback, on the one hand the audience said that they sensed that you were drawing together disparate voices through the metaphors and it was great when this became clearer as the frozen/melting and presentation of self ideas really began to come through.

On the other hand though the audiences did feel, at times, a little lost - especially at the beginning - as to who you were talking to and what you were trying to achieve from a theatrical perspective. Maybe something was missing here in the demonstration of what you were trying to achieve in the meta-theatrical elements.

The audience said that they weren't entirely sure how drawing attention to the theatricality e.g. with the microphone and asking to turn down the lights was meant to achieve? In a way it occasionally overcomplicated the overall journey of the piece. Equally, the accusatory elements of the show maybe leave the audience feeling 'a bit of a mug' when the total breakdown happens. You might be a little too rude.

The main suggestion here would be just to look through it and ask if a couple of moments need clarity or simplifying

Also, your intentions:

Remember why you think you wrote it - you wanted to write about expectations - what people should or shouldn't do. What we shouldn't talk about 'as a man' - again, you're writing about feelings or not talking about feelings, your dad. The expectations dictated by polite society, the painfulness of being British, closed off and compartmentalised.

But also the idea, the expectation, that stories perhaps having to have a beginning, a middle, an end. What happens if the middle goes out of it? Do we still crave a second ending even if the 'real' ending has happened already. An end come prematurely.

Consider the themes, both of your work - male relationships, saying what you normally hide away, your crippling inability to write female characters - and this piece specifically - hypocrisy, society, a web of referencing. These are key to you solidifying what you want to say with the piece. What do you want to say with the piece?

Sleep on it, for a few months and let the whole thing bed in a little. Then take it out of the drawer, dust it off and redraft, but not too much - people liked it! Finally, well done - you know you put in a lot of work, and yourself, into the script and its performing. That needs commending - even if by yourself.

Best,

Gareth 

PS: I've put plenty of photos on this post from the show as they are all really great and these few are my favourite ones - Thanks Theo for the shots.

Photo Credits: Theo Moye












Ignite[d]

posted 6 Jun 2013, 16:17 by Gareth Morgan   [ updated 6 Jun 2013, 16:18 ]

Yesterday, I finished my work-in-progress run at the Rusty Bike as part of the Exeter Ignite Festival - giving me a chance to air the show, get more comfortable with it and try a few bits and bobs. I'm not going to go into details but the show got progressively better each night with me cocking up less each night too. It was a great experience and I'm far calmer about the whole process as a result.

On the various nights I think I managed to get at least a decent grasp of what worked [most of it] and what didn't [a few bits]. I had some new ad-libs, which are soon to be subsumed into the script and was able to play with the delivery styles of direct address - whether I would singe out audience members at different points. Plus, I had the microphone for the first time - rather than being a man talking into an empty microphone stand, which could have looked a bit silly.

I had some useful feedback from friends, audience members and staff at the venue [the dream team of Rob and Tiny] and a review from the incredibly kind Roger Jarman writing for Wildfire, the Ignite Festival's daily round-up paper. Highlights of the review were:

"Mesmerising and technically very strong. Subtle use of music and overdubbing lent a richness to [the] text…a soliloquy with hints of soul and eloquence"

and

"If the audience expected some steamy sex, they were disappointed - unless they were turned on by Gareth's shins"

Over the next few days I'll be sifting through the comments myself and playing with the show a little more pre-Northcott. Plus, I may get my legs out more as the weather is lovely in Exeter and Roger seemed to like them.


PS: Saw James Tapp's James Tries To Make His Life Slightly Better today too. It was excellent. Well done Tapp.

PPS: I made a new image too - see above. 

On Eyes

posted 6 Jun 2013, 16:03 by Gareth Morgan   [ updated 6 Jun 2013, 16:04 ]

[DISCLAIMER - since starting this post, sat in the corner of a friend's rehearsal, the world has become a bit of a whirlwind - from which I have only just had time to settle down from. This whirlwind was making a Shakespeare Live Art show in just 50 hours, 5 hours on the train, producing two script in hand performances in Lincoln in two days, bumping into Midge Ure, 5 hours on the train, Notes… rehearsal weekend, Notes… work-in-progresses, and EXEplorer mixed in amongst it all. Busy theatre-maker few weeks, but back to eyes…]

Sometimes you get an input on a show from someone who just gets it, straightaway. They give you some supportive criticisms on it but these are constructive - they are them encouraging you toward the outcome you've always wanted, not them placing their blueprint for theatre upon it - and this helps you to steer what you are making in the direction you always wanted it to go. I wrote this after a session with Natasha Lushetich, who lectures at Exeter. I wanted to put it up as a thank you really - that session was aces.

I also want to talk about music. The use of music in the process of putting the work together.

There has been a level of serendipity in how some of the musical choices have slotted together and whilst many of these have been removed from the final production, they have informed into the staging, realisation and construction of the piece's dramaturgy.

The use of Dylan's If You See Her, underscoring the final Voice speech in the first section, echoes into David in Act 2. This use of Dylan informing into the process of the end of act 1 causing David to discuss his relationship with the music - a beginning of a crack, a moment of merging between the conceptual framing of the piece and the delivered text. This is also the case with act 2's beginning, with intertextual 'feeling' section with Ry Cooder/Wim Wenders or its ending with The Righteous Brothers, also using film as counter-point too.

I'm also hugely indebted to what inspiration I've drawn from Ron Mael and Georgio Moroder's No. 1 in Heaven album from 1979 [seriously, 1979, that album was so ahead of its time!]. Their subversion of the modes of disco, pop and more punk/rock influences from their previous more garage-y albums has fed into the slower pacing and under-cutting of ideas. I do this a bit in reverse, I get more DIY by the end.

This sounds pretentious but I think it's the case.

I'll stop now but music was important - maybe I should have just said that? 


An 'actor' ill-prepared, 20th May

posted 20 May 2013, 15:33 by Gareth Morgan   [ updated 20 May 2013, 15:34 ]

"Suit the action to the word, the word to the action" - Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 2.


As the script that I wrote gets ever shorter in my continued editing of my over-writing of scenes, I'm increasingly reminded of Hamlet's advice to the players. Wary of out Heroding Herod, I have always been a reserved performer and even more reserved rehearser (this may have something to do with laziness). That said, in this process I've even done proper warm ups  - generally me bouncing around to Stand Up by The Prodigy, but it counts - and been rather serious with having aims and objectives to get out of each allotted amount of rehearsal time. 

It may be a dirty word in some circles I hang around in, but I quite like acting. Whilst the sections of the text less concerned with character, believability and differentiation between the two parts I'm playing come more naturally to me, I rather like the grappling with the complexity of telling a story as someone else. I even relay something said by female characters without resorting to my Terry Jones voice. This has been hard graft for me and allowed me to appreciate more fully the talent, dedication and work put in by some of the really great actors I've worked with in the past, the ones who make it look effortless especially. To pretend to be someone who isn't me saying words I've written not as myself is a challenge that I have been finding daunting but a week's labours have borne fruit - Kol, my outside eye, was even nice about my acting causing me to ask whether she was feeling alright. There's a long way to go with it but I have two weeks until the first Ignite sharing which I am less scared of as each day's work gets done. There's still the matter of learning all those lines but I'm beginning to get there.

There will be more work to do. Whilst most of the acting is in act 1, act 2 has its own set of issues including acting of the ball and reacting when not actually speaking. Plus, keeping one prolonged stream of text interesting to the listener. And, perhaps me singing.

Act 2 begins with the guitar stylings of Mr. Ry Cooder and a description of one of the great movies of the 1980s. Here's a clue.


'til next time.

An 'actor' prepares... a preview, 13th May 2013

posted 13 May 2013, 15:05 by Gareth Morgan   [ updated 13 May 2013, 15:07 ]

This week I must do some acting.

This calls for both a serious and the more usual response from me.

                               

I'll let you know how it goes, Tortsov.

Progress, so far, 12th May 2013

posted 13 May 2013, 14:06 by Gareth Morgan   [ updated 13 May 2013, 14:08 ]

"You go out there as who you are, you do things the way you feel you need to do them and the moment of theatre will frame you, allow you to be and hold you together" - Philipp Gehmacher in Throwing the Body into the Fight: a Portrait of Raimund Hoghe*

"Carry on. Until the scene becomes improbable. Until you have the impression, for the briefest of moments, that you are in a strange town or, better still, until you can no longer understand what is happening or is not happening, until the whole place becomes strange, and you no longer even know that this is what is called a town, a street, buildings, pavement…" - Georges Perec in Species of Spaces

I'm wandering, through a land of shapes and shadows. It's dark around me and I'm not sure where I'm going has any signs. I'll just have to ask anyone I find. But I keep trudging, why wouldn't I? I have a show to put on and a lot of lines to learn.

Notes… has evolved over the last week. I've had meetings with different inspirational/inquisitorial outside-eyes, who have questioned the things I never really thought about as I was too busy making the words sound pretty, which they do. Who is talking? What is A's relationship to B? X's to Y? Why do the audience care? Won't they switch off in the this protracted black-out? Through these questions the first two acts are pretty much there after I have tweaked and solidified what is going on in my head. This means they transfer properly into rehearsal, rather than blocking/staging ideas, on Monday! Act 3 will also get its cosmetic overhaul to make it fit its new beginnings too next week.

Process wise, although part of the text for the show is taken from The Righteous Brothers' 1964 classic, and Nottingham Forest fan favourite**, You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin', I'm actually enjoying other people poking around in the work. The song's second verse contains the line "you're starting to criticize little things I do". This however, despite the song's assertion that this means "something beautiful's dying", is proving brilliantly useful, and has cut the amount of costume changes I have - although I have more lines to learn. This process has forced me, in Perec's terminology, to carry on pressing, past my and my colleagues' assumptions, to make the world of David's play clear and 'improbable', whilst also being mindful of watchability (don't want it to be dull).

However, despite of the kindness of theatrical strangers on my journey, I'm still the obdurate and stubborn artist I think I am. I will still 'do things the way I feel need to do them'***. Also, here's some snaps of me tying a tie… Fascinating.


*Thanks to Michael Pinchbeck for pointing me toward this quotation

** Still struggling not to stand up and sing it with my arms aloft and outstretched

*** the bold Is are intentional. I intent to be bold.

Image Credit: Kris Jennings

A preface, 5th May 2013

posted 13 May 2013, 14:05 by Gareth Morgan   [ updated 13 May 2013, 14:05 ]

I started this project back in October, it sort of collided with my starting of my MA [playwriting and dramaturgy at the University of Exeter]. Notes... has been a companion through the course, which I am now in the final straights of. The last act of Notes…, or at least a first draft of it, was submitted as part of the playwriting module and it was the first thing since the play about my dad I'd actually been pleased with. I've written things since too, I've not been pleased with them. The second act came from a writing exercise myself and my fellow student James Tapp did in February and parts of act one have been plodding around in my mind for a while although finding someone to enact them with in real life has been more of a struggle.

As a script Notes… is an attempt to stratify my approach to autobiographical writing. Or to put it another way, it's basically me and things that have happened to me with just some key details changed and removed. It's autobiography once removed. With this in mind, and aware of sounding a bit of a ponce, there's a lot of me in the writing and I am tied to it in a certain way. That's not to say that I'm precious or sacrosanct about the script, dramaturgical development and assistance are always needed and encouraged. It's more that I feel a connection with the character David that compels me to want to perform him within the script.

I have had discussions with colleagues and academics at Exeter, who have been invaluable in the formation of the show, but, wary of sounding like a bit of a prick, I have always wanted to steer this project using my judgment. That isn't to say that I will ignore good advice or not consider their views but this feels right to do as me. This show is a piece which is geared toward my development as a theatre maker, making work myself with collaborators sure, but being less focused on traditional theatre relationships of actor-director and the script as sacred relic rather than an adaptive roadmap where one can perhaps chose to take the scenic route. This will hopefully be more performance-y, in the Hatch definition, than traditional theatre, although the old adage of 'say your lines and avoid the furniture' still rings true. However, this will be me - Gareth the theatre-maker making a show by me, about me, with a vision that I want to achieve outside of the putting on of a play.

To return to the 'play about my dad' - Births, Deaths and Marriages*, this was the last piece of work that I felt truly proud to make - I happily list it as my proudest achievement, along with making it this far and this was a project borne out of my working in a similar vein. Whilst Births, Deaths and Marriages did have a performer, not myself but the wonderful Mr Dickie Garton, this was something that was taken out of my hands due being 6000 miles away during the performance and has now become part of the fabric of the show - an actor performing the piece when my dad is present for his walk on part at the end, or me playing myself with a 'stunt dad' and my real dad being banned from being there. This process was one akin to that which I'm embarking on here and only removes the actor - subject relationship as I certainly didn't work with Dickie as a director, rather a creative collaborator in the roadmap sense I spoke of earlier.  We worked together for a period before the show making the script and performance glue together with Dickie's input key to the final 'what you see on the night and this something that will happen on Notes...too

As a project won't and can't be a one-man band; there will be other people involved to call me on my flights of fancy. I have two brilliant friends, Beth Shouler, who worked with Dickie and I on Births, Deaths and Marriages, and Kolbrún Björt Sigfúsdóttir, a fellow (and very insightful) Exeter MA, acting as outside eyes on the process - pointing out what I'm missing and questioning what I'm doing and what I've written. Thanks also must go to former housemate and all-round performance good egg Ollie Smith who did the first read for me as David and Will Platt, another Exeter colleague, who played Voice when I tried it a second time. There is also support from the drama department and the Northcott. These are all super helpful.

 I'll be updating this page as I progress through rehearsing and realising the project, but to begin with I want to share with you this: 

With that all said I'd better get back on with the third draft.

Theatrically yours,

Gareth 

* You can read more about 'dad play' here, here and here

Image Credit: Barbara Morgan

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