We’ve now had three of our eight final performance evenings at college, with six to eight people having their final projects performed each night. Other than my own piece (which is on the last evening, next week), I’ve now done all the performing I’ll be doing, and it’s been a lot of fun.
Last night I made a blink-and-you-miss-me appearance in Xan’s otherwise solo clown piece. I’d worked with her as an outside eye on it the previous week and it was interesting to try and find a theme and things to do in a very simple piece: a clown sitting, waiting for her love to arrive.
Another piece was Susie’s, which she based on a short story by Primo Levi, The Great Mutation, in which a girl grows wings. There were five of us involved (me playing the girl’s bemused father) and it was a fun group — four of us had worked together earlier in the year on our British-commuters-killing-a-tourist piece — and the work process went smoothly enough. The final work seemed to go down well, and I guess it was a combination of some grotesque characters (not quite a chorus) with a dash of creating images using bodies, which felt a little more like our work on telling epic stories a few terms ago. It’s difficult to balance a magical realist story — how to keep the beauty of fantastical elements without making them seem either ridiculous on the one hand, or overly soppy on the other. I think Susie managed to navigate our way through this to a story that was a nice balance of fantasy and humour.
These final projects have made me realise how hard I find it to visualise what a finished piece will be like. Much of the process involves working out what bits of a story to tell and how to represent them, and this always feels like a random collection of theatrical ideas. It’s difficult, for me at least, to see how these are going to fit together, and I often find myself doubting the quality of a piece until very close to performance when, with luck, it all comes together into a unified whole.
This reminds me of when I used to paint and would spend most of the time trying to ignore the voice telling me what a piece of rubbish I was creating, because these scrappy patches of colour will never look like anything. If I ignored the voice long enough and kept going then usually, hopefully, I’d prove it wrong and suddenly I’d see it was about to work. I don’t know if this blindness of mine is exacerbated when working on something in which a director is in control, rather than the more distributed decision-making involved in our usual “Creation Group” pieces — maybe in this case it’s a matter of having faith in the director’s vision, which one hopes is clearer for them.
The third piece I was involved in was Kat’s, telling the story of the double Nobel Prize-winning scientist Marie Curie. Given that these projects couldn’t run to more than twelve minutes, Kat focused solely on Curie’s discovery of the metal polonium and how her work with radioactive elements ended up killing her.
Unlike Xan and Susie, Kat didn’t perform in her piece, remaining as writer/director, and had just two actors: Camille as Marie Curie and me as Polonium. It might sound a bit odd to have someone playing a chemical element but I think it really worked. (It always feels awkward to say something worked when I’m in it and can’t really see the thing, but it felt right and reactions from our admittedly friendly audience seemed very positive.)
Polonium was played as a human and he was, well, a bastard: a suave and seductive lover who plans to kill the person who falls for him. The language used was trying to tell both the scientific and romantic sides of the story — “There’s just something about my behaviour she finds attractive…” — as he lures her in and then watches her slowly die. As a role it was a lot of fun and very satisfying. I enjoy playing evil types and the seduction angle gave another side to him that was interesting to juggle with. It was a much more complete role and character than one usually ends up playing in our devised pieces at LISPA, and I feel lucky to have had the chance to have a go at it.
But he seemed a pretty simple character compared to Curie, who had to show enthusiasm for the chemistry while also falling in love and dying of radiation poisoning. Camille did a great job and it was… however I try to finish this sentence, it sounds like a naff acceptance speech: “an honour to work with her”, “a real pleasure…”, “hugely satisfying…”. It was good, yay, well done Camille, and Kat did a fine job of sticking to her idea and directing us through to something that worked.
But those projects are all over for now. One performance each and we’re done, which is a great shame. The performance days at college have been surprisingly enjoyable — after the stresses of the tech rehearsals for our previous “Best of” shows, in which we had 34 people involved in twenty different pieces, fewer people in six to eight pieces is much more manageable. So, anxiety of the performance aside, the final preparations have been remarkably relaxed and sociable, reminding me how much I’ll miss the people and the place. After each performance, and after the audience has left, we sit around as the four main teachers, Thomas, Amy, Steph and Michael, give the night’s directors feedback I’m always thinking that this is the final time they’ll give advice to those people before it’s all over and we go our separate ways.
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