The initial idea for this performance stemmed from themes I was working on for my solo surrounding control, being trapped and looking for a way out. However, I decided to take it out of the African context and make it more relevant to a Western audience. I felt that I had already explored the African theme when I was studying for my degree, and I didn’t feel it was the right time to be pushing this further. Instead I explored these themes in a context closer to home by focusing on how we are becoming slaves to technology.
My aim for this piece was to create a world that is easily relatable for a modern audience, where it is shifting between happy and bright to dark and dangerous, and linked together with the idea that these differences are formed both in reality and online, but sometimes the barriers get blurred. Cyber bullying feels as real as getting punched in the face, happiness online can mean despair and depression at home, seeing some social media users exaggerated happiness can be either dysphoric or euphoric for the viewer at home.
Up until almost the end of the devising process, I had lots of scenes and good links that morphed to became scenes of their own, however I didn’t have anything tying the whole show together. It wasn’t until I started exploring text with the other performers that I picked up on the dog theme and saw a tangible, clear way to flit between the bright and dark worlds by using a simple story. I will talk about this more later but I think it is key to note here that by collaborating with my other performers the piece underwent a major upheaval which helped tie the show together and give it a backbone.
My inspiration for this theme has come from many different places, including shows such as Black Mirror that twist the use of technology into a dysphoric digital age; Doctor Who with specific focus on a recent episode looking at emoji's and a land where you have to be happy or you are killed; and also exhibitions where photographers are editing out smartphones from social situations and analysing the interesting effect this has on the subjects being shown and their now seemingly strange interaction, or lack of it, with each other. I was intrigued by the flat, almost robot face people have when engrossed in looking at their phone and used this as a starting point for how the performers on stage interact with each other in their ‘normal’ state. By having this as the first layer, it was a blank canvas to work form, so during the devising and rehearsal process we could experiment with heightening and dampening emotions and interactions, to find the correct level for each scene and put my message across clearly but not obviously for the audience. For links to specific articles that inspired me please go to the ‘Inspiration’ blog page where you can read more; inspiration.html.
As this was a group piece but we couldn’t always rehearse together, I used weekly rehearsal sessions alone to choreograph movement and establish a plan of action for when in the studio with the other performers. Like I’ve already mentioned I was initially fixated with the idea of becoming drones, people in trance who are slaves to technology. Physically I experimented showing this by adding these layers to 'pure' movement I devised…
It was interesting the effect of having different combinations of layers, and teaming the physical with the mental either contrasting or complimenting. I did find it a challenge to self-motivate at the beginning and sift the good from the bad but I think I improved at this as time went on! I was then able to go into the studio with some work, so if energy was lacking we didn’t have to start from zero. For an example of this layering process with videos please see the ‘Adding layers to create a character’ blog post; adding-layers-to-create-a-character.html.
I tried to have a combination of different ways to create material. Sometimes I worked alone and taught the performers, sometimes I set them tasks to reach a goal, sometimes I worked collaboratively on duets or trios and asked an observer to take the role of director and help push the piece along. (For more on this please see ‘Creating material and editing’ creating-material-and-editing.html) I found this was a great way to work; it meant the performers didn’t get overwhelmed with too much information seeing as they still had their own pieces to create, but they did feel ownership over the piece and involved in the process. I hoped that through working with the group to create the piece as collaboratively as possible I would have a bigger range of artistic decisions to choose from, making the final piece much more collaborative and therefore different to work I would usually create.
In the collaborative studio, I split my piece into 3 main parts to tackle. For the first I came in with set choreography, taught the group then allowed them time to edit it and change it for themselves before adding layers on. This worked well because I wanted a 'cheesy' dance, with everyone doing a similar style but with their own twist on the moves. From here, I added on an element of competition with the aim to be centre of attention and made this improvisation more set by taking elements I liked and setting them into a sequence. By having mostly set choreography, it removes the risk of poor improvisation during the performance, but by setting these moves from improvisation it keeps the element of surprise for the audience and organic-ness for the performer. From here I tried adding a layer on in the form of voice, where the performers were desperately trying to tell us about the happiest day of their life but due to the music getting louder, or others interrupting or the disruptive movement they were struggling to do this. It didn’t quite fit with the rest of the piece as they suddenly had stopped manipulating me, so we also experimented with them just telling their story to stop me being able to tell mine. It was interesting because once all the layers were added I felt the scene was strong, however when placed in the show it lost power because it was showing something which we had already showed in a better way; the other performers not letting me speak; earlier in the piece. This was a good discovery and a lesson well learnt that although material is sometimes good, it may not fit with the overall vision so needs some tweaking before it can enhance the piece.
For the second section I again came in with set choreography which I devised alone using inspiration of 'proving that I am happy'. I then asked the group to do whatever they could to stop me from performing this movement. As with the first section I then took movements that worked from this improvisation and set choreography, and throughout rehearsals kept tweaking this to make it as aesthetically pleasing as possible. For the 3rd section I started with a blank slate and only gave 2 instructions for creating movement; feet and jump. My end goal was to have smiley faces on the heels of our feet with a live feed camera showing this projecting onto the back wall. I knew I wanted different visual angles of the performers on stage compared to the projection, I knew I wanted unison and I knew I wanted the contrast between drone characters and these strange emoji feet but the product was so different to my vision of it, and much better because I drip fed instructions to my performers and allowed them to take on the creation process instead of getting stuck in my own head and only following one creative path.
I also looked back through my solos and decided to edit my 'Ove' solo (meet-ove.html) to become a turning point in the piece where my character is no longer accepted by the other members of the group because of my reluctance to be a passive observer like they have become. This was the aim for this part anyway, but it turned into a continuation of me being controlled by the group into the first time I realised I could manipulate them as well as them manipulating me. This discovery only came very late in the devising process, once I had added on the idea of telling the story about a dog. As I threw the paper onto the floor I began to explore if there were ways the other characters could snap out of their zombie like trance and react to something very real. This worked well, especially with the reference alluding to a dog with a ball, so it allowed the piece to take a different turn and for me to be in control for a while. Of course, this couldn’t last so I had to look for ways to stop this and have the other characters back in control. I experimented with duets and trios in which one person starts with control and the other ends with it, or finding trigger words to change these characters but I felt it needed something much subtler so I ended up discarding these pieces of material and simply having the text noise to draw performers and audience alike back into the cyber world where these drone characters are in control.
The prop I decided to use in my show was paper. I chose this because I had already used it in the props weekend (for more information please see ‘What is a prop?’ what-is-a-prop.html) and I had really enjoyed experimenting with how it can influence my movement. I loved crumpling it up and echoing that with my body, then looking at how it has different qualities when it is flat or in a ball or being ripped up. I also thought it would be nice to have paper in a technology inspired show, allowing for a subtle link and nod of the head towards the good old-fashioned pen and paper! When devising the paper section, I gave each performer some paper and asked them to create a few movements that were inspired by the quality of the paper. From here I created a sequence that we performed in unison. It was a shame because as rehearsals went on we lost some of the detail in our movement, especially as we added text and emotion, so although I did re-choreograph this to try and catch the nuances next time I think I would spend more time with the prop creating movement to explore even more possibilities.
As I mentioned earlier, it wasn’t until I asked the other performers to write about their happiest days did I find a structure and through line for my piece. In my opinion, it was missing another layer and the text brought that depth I was looking for. First, I asked everyone to write a paragraph about the happiest day of their lives. I then swapped the texts around and we all had to edit the text to make it as exaggerated as possible. We then swapped texts again and tried performing them in different states for example very cold, cocky, shy, excited. I loved what happened to the texts as they came alive, suddenly each character had their own backstory and reason for being there, the texts were warped and funny, they allowed for exploration of movement and they inspired relationships between the characters to grow. It really was a turning point in my devising process and I feel that it added a lot to the piece both in terms of possibilities when devising and the finished product. (using-text.html)
The technology weekend really changed the creative path I was taking. Before that weekend I could see a very clear 'world' that I was going to set my piece in. A world where everyone had to be happy and where this was very quickly established through cheesy music, 'happy' dancing and big smiles. However, I had also been experimenting with the noise of texts and images of emoji's but didn't know how to incorporate this into my work. It felt almost like 2 separate ideas that hadn't quite merged together. But as soon as I started experimenting with the text noise, projection, light and vocals I realized I don't need to be so obvious, I don't need to spoon feed the audience. Instead I can create this world in a much more atmospheric way, and it felt right to be experimenting with using technology in the piece seeing's as it's all about tech! I enjoyed using the live feed to create different viewpoints for the audience, I liked the link it made to how what we see on social media is often a warped version of reality, the idea that there are 2 sides to every story.
In terms of technically using this equipment, I found it challenging because I have never done it before and always shied away from it thinking I wouldn’t be able to use it properly so it would just look rubbish! However, the technology weekend really opened my eyes to simple and effective possibilities and I really enjoyed the experimenting process. Please see the ‘Multimedia’ blog for some more information and video examples; multimedia.html.
I hoped that by exploring the sound of texting, which everyone can instantly identify with, and setting up the idea that how you respond on social media vs in real life are often different the audience would understand that the piece is showing the contrast, struggle and loneliness that can be associated with technology and social media. I do think this came across, however it was very interesting when talking to my Mum and friend after the show because my friend instantly understood the social media referencing and could follow the journey of my character as it turned dark and she could see the difference between telling story’s online and the stark reality. My Mum however, is not a social media user and she didn’t pick up on that link at all. She understood from the piece that the other characters didn’t like the fact I was so happy and wanted to either sabotage my happiness or have some for themselves; which is a perfect and unintentional response when viewed without the social media references. Audiences are amazing at coming to their own conclusions and I was right to pair back how obvious I was and allow room for their own interpretation.
The process of creating this piece was a very enjoyable one. I was constantly questioning myself and my artistic decisions in a way that allowed me to look at the work from a different perspective and analyse as I was working. Of course, there were struggles; making smooth transitions, not letting my head get clouded with too many ideas, being clear in both instructions when devising and intention when performing, and managing my time well. But I think the hardest thing for me was being a leader in a collaboration. I really did want this piece to be a group project, however obviously I had to take the lead. In the past, I have either been the director or a performer so it was strange to get used to the idea of handing control over to other people and then ultimately making the final decision anyway. I also found it a struggle being in all the other 4 pieces, so 5 in total. As it got nearer to show day I was finding myself getting frustrated during other people’s rehearsals because I wanted to be rehearsing my piece or I thought they should be managing their time more effectively, but I just tried to be as productive as possible for them whatever stage they were at and in the end, it all came together nicely! Saying that, on the flip side I did enjoy being in the other pieces because I got to experience different director’s approaches and expand my own repertoire in terms of movement and character development, and it helped me reinforce all the skills learnt during this course.
There are areas of my piece that could have been explored more, of course, for example using the paper to influence movement. Props are great for contextualising, setting the scene and inspiring movement and I only explored one way to use it so this is something I would like to expand on. In terms of sound I think I could have given the text sound more importance; it got lost a little and although I liked that it was subtle if I were to do this again I might have a movement motif that repeats in different styles depending on where we are in the piece each time it plays. I would have also liked to have made more use of the live projection, maybe having the audience projected onto the screen at some point to explore making a link about being passive observers or used lights more impressively to alter the image. On that note, there were some technical problems with the placing of the camera to see the happy soles of the feet and the performers as they came towards the camera so this is something to work on through either using another camera or finding a way to make the placing of the camera more consistent.
On reflection and in conclusion, I am pleased with how I managed to use the layering process to convey my original idea. I feel like I had the time and space to explore the techniques learnt and apply it to my own work. I am grateful that I managed to incorporate props, music, costume and multimedia into my devising process and although I know I don’t need to include everything every time I create work; at least I now have the confidence to try it. I love the fact that an end goal can be reached in many ways, and it is the journey that is full of the rich goodness that makes a great show. My mind has been opened to performance possibilities and I will absolutely take all that I have learnt forward as I continue devising, performing and teaching.
Overall, I am pleased with what I achieved and am now brimming with ideas to continue this project or begin a new one!
I haven’t mentioned all the additional blog posts in this essay that you can find on the homepage, but please feel free to browse through them if you would find it interesting. I found it very useful to keep a log of what we did throughout the course as it went along and to constantly evaluate how these methods were helping me with my final piece.