Flood of chatter

A belated catch-up on the end of last term at LISPA. When I last wrote we’d just decided which stories we were going to tell for our end of term performance, my Creation group picking Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.

From then we had about two and a half weeks to create a piece of theatre telling the story. I think our group had something like 30-35 hours in the rehearsal space during that time, with people spending more time outside, working on the script, learning lines, finding costumes, etc.

There were a few hours when things went great — we’d be working well as a team, playing, experimenting, hitting on things that worked, moving on quickly from things that didn’t. Then there were hours where it was a painful experience — lack of communication, people crying, progress slow and difficult. And then there were many hours between the two extremes in which we made progress but it always felt like we should be working better than we were — some good ideas, progress being made, but too much talking and not enough listening.

I’ve had worse experiences in Creation groups but it was still frustrating and at times it was hard to believe we’d already spent over a year working in groups like this. Had we learned nothing about how to work together effectively?

I could probably have done more to make it better, although I’m not sure what. I have a tendency to step back slightly from proceedings now, not wanting to invest too much emotionally into a process that I know will be difficult. For example, here’s a problem we had: if someone had an idea for us to try out, chances are many others in the group would suggest modifications or additions for us to ty out as well. But all these ideas would flood in before we’d tried out the first idea, and we swiftly end up with so many alternative suggestions that we don’t know what it is we’re going to try out next.

There are worse problems than “too many ideas” but I found this incredibly frustrating, wanting people to keep quiet and hold on to their secondary ideas until we’d tried out the first one, and for them then to contribute their idea if it was still worth trying.

But I had no idea how to make this all work better — it seems such an obvious problem — and so, as usual, I settled on saying nothing, figuring that even if I couldn’t make the process better, I wouldn’t make it worse by adding to the flood of chatter. If I chipped in I’d only prolong the discussion and confusion that would need to be untangled before we finally tried something out. Maybe I’m too concerned about offending people by losing my patience more often.

OK, I didn’t shut up completely. On the few occasions I had an idea I’d try and find the right time to contribute it, and I’d give all I could when trying something out or rehearsing the piece. But I wish I could find a role for myself that makes the process less of a trial — we need more work/play (it’s a fine line) and less chattering.

Aside from all that, I was quite pleased with our piece in the end. I think we told the story so it made sense (easier said than done) and created some interesting images. There are plenty of things that could be improved, but it held together as a narrative. I wish I’d spent more time on working on the two main characters I played (a doctor and Kurtz) but they were OK for rough drafts. Next time.

Last year I was a bit critical of the then Advanced Course’s presentations, so I was interested to see how I thought ours compared. Unfortunately I have no idea. It’s so hard to compare pieces by strangers (last year) with pieces by people one knows well. But I certainly have a better appreciation of quite how rough those “works in progress” probably were last year if ours were anything to go by. It was all very last minute and seat-of-the-pants.

Finally, last time I said I was pleased to be working on a fiction story, rather than one of the real life tales of heroism and suffering chosen by the other groups. I think, for me, I still made the right choice. Creating theatre from any story, fiction or not, has many difficulties, and telling a real life story adds many more. At the moment I feel like I (or we) have enough difficulties to tackle without adding more at this stage.