The Ballerina says…

Guest post from the brilliant Maddie McGowan who worked with us during our week at West Yorkshire Playhouse for Furnace

pic by Andy Wood

I love to work on projects in their very early stages. I love the sense of a new idea bubbling up and taking shape, of all the questions that rapidly come, of trying something just becuase you want to know if it might work, then trying something completely different. Things move very fast at this stage. It certainly happened like that working on the first R&D for The Giant and the Bear, and it was a delightful experience.

I arrived knowing little more than the title and a brief concept outline for the show. I had heard it would involve a lot of games, possibly a big top, and some rollerskating! Clare told me on the first evening ‘We just want you to play this week’. ‘Great!’ I thought. The tone of the research week was nicely set by physical, writing and drawing exercises to allow us to start our immaginations to enter into the world of the giant and the bear. With six creative people in the room it is easy to generate a lot of material and questions that at some point further along will need answers and a process of whittling down.
pic by Andy Wood

As an aerial artist I was really happy to work alongside an actor, directors and writers. I had to think about my aerial work in the context of a developing story between two characters (the bear and the ballerina). Typically I really loved the chance to cross into someone else’s territory and develop the setting and the characters of the story through group writing exercises – telling my version of the world that was forming in my immagination, and hearing other people’s was really satisfying. Perhaps the biggest challenge of the week was for all six of us to get our creative ideas out there in a way that communicated clearly to each other, allowing us to keep more or less on the same page as we developed a general communal sense how the world of the Giant and the Bear might be, and how we could each bring our skills to it. I think in a way each of us developed our own version of the Giant’s world and it will be really interesting to see how the end product comes out in the show next June.

pic by Andy Wood

The overall atmosphere in the R&D was very playful and collaborative. We all started with games each morning. We all took part in physical characterisation exercises and writing exercises. There were costumes in the room from the first day and this certainly contributed to the atmosphere of a ‘playbox’, as did playing over the microphone which developed a bluesy version of Teddy Bears’ Picnic.

On three afternoons we presented a bit of the day’s rehearsal to an audience who wanted to be invited in in the early stages. I think we were all a bit nervous about this at first, and we kept reassuring each other that we didnt have to do ‘a show’! We didnt need to worry. The viewers were more than happy to allow a rehearsal atmosphere and enjoyed the raw energy and early birthing of ideas. Presenting the work, engaging in discussion and seeing the audience reactions were so valuable and in some cases moulded how we decided to work the following day.

pic by Andy Wood

It is tiring to focus your creative energy in lots of different directions for several days (and we covered aerial/text play, static trapeze skills class, tumble harness, counterweighting, rollerskating, cheerleading, physical character work, improvisations, writing story development). I think it’s great that there is now a period to let settle all the info and ideas we generated, and the next stage will be very exciting too!


pic by Andy Wood

And here’s a short clip of video from rehearsals that week as Maddie and Sebastien try some infant ideas out on the stage at West Yorkshire Playhouse…

[vimeo 30903094]

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