A decision was made, based on separate performances presented to the group and the staff of different topic areas that could be used for the local community performance project; these included the legend of the white woman and legends surrounding Beeston Castle. The staff, who thought that the salt industry would be an interesting area of study, made the final decision.
We felt research was vital to the performance as our stimulus has a lot of history, we felt we needed to borrow and retrieve inspiration from other play writes and practitioners and depth of research allows us to communicate with the audience on a variety of levels. We had already studied Artaud, Beckett, Brecht and Berkoff and used ideas of theirs in our drama, such as Beckett’s idea of the exaggeration of character shown through Mr Falk’s character, we ridiculed all of his actions so he became humorous. Berkoff was very much influenced by Artaud so his ideas ran into the ones we already had.
Our piece would thus be layered, a complex understanding shown through characterisation, scene and image, we were determined to make available to the audience what we interpreted from the period and stories found from the salt mines. The industry was researched as well as general research into existing theatre companies and practitioners. The college’s library provided many interesting articles on different aspects of the salt industry and gave many groups an idea of what to base their performance on such as transport and the slave trade.
Other research material was found at research archives on the Internet this included information about the time period when the salt industry was at its peak, around the 1800s, and this was where I found the bulk of my research into the theatre companies, DV8 and V-Tol. We were to devise a piece an integrated performance not only stimulated by this industry but also incorporate clear styles and genres, motif development, characterisation and integration of the art forms.
The purpose of the piece was to entertain and also educate the audience about their local heritage. To begin our investigation into the area as a whole we made our own notes and did our own individual research of the salt industry as a whole and then focused on different areas to base our drama on, each group interpreted these issues in their own way; this meant no two pieces of theatre would be the same as we all have individual ideas and opinions.
However when we came together in our groups we discussed our notes, points and ideas and came to a group decision about what we thought of the ideas being raised, we made sure there were no clashes and tried to devise some sort of structure, before beginning to develop thoughts, actions and finally a narrative. My group and I wanted to devise a piece of drama in the style of many different practitioners along side physical, absurd theatre.
This meant a very surrealistic piece with little dialogue that would be used just as a mode of communication. Instead we would use our bodies and physicality to communicate our message to the audience this places emphasis on a variety of language sorts – physical, verbal and visual, like the works of Artaud, Brecht and Berkoff and also the existing theatre companies researched, DV8 and V-Tol. Artaud’s work was very much based on ritual primitivism and releasing the dark forces of the soul and seeing the dark side of human nature.
We needed to create a piece exploring all these points showing the class division in the mines, the dehumanisation of the miners and how it almost became a religion to them, like a ritual. We wanted the audience to question whether theatre needs to make moral sense just as Artaud did, we wanted to break the tension at various points to make the audience aware they are watching a piece of theatre like Brecht did.
Most importantly we wanted to communicate to the audience their own heritage and past in a way they would find interesting and enjoyable, bringing the audience together to appreciate the history behind their community. My group began by creating a physical motif, influenced by the DV8 theatre company. We watched a performance called “Strange Fish” and saw how they used their bodies to create emotion and physical structures such as a bed, this had an unbelievable, powerful affect on the audience.
We created a physical machine using our bodies, highly melodramatic movements and over exaggeration of motifs that was visually fantastic and gave the piece depth through its falsity, it was definitely reminiscent of the works by DV8 and V-Tol and I felt it was an excellent starting point as it captured how machine like and tedious the tasks were of the miners in the salt mine and when they were working how un-human they were treated and felt, for they were just another cog in the machine.
This idea of dehumanisation was emphasised further by having one member of the group acting as the controller showing characterisation and gave the audience clues to his identity whereas the identities of the other workers are simply lost as they are acting as an inanimate object. The movements were very strong and angular, reflecting the machine movements, showing an influence taken from DV8, using the body as tools in the machine.
The distant proxemics between the characters in the final machine position and the “controller” showed the distant relationship between the characters we were beginning to create. This was successful as it gave us an idea of where to go next without tying us down to a script so early in the devising process. We developed this and decided we needed an introduction to this scene and took influence from “Stomp” by Luke Cresswell a rhythm-based group that combine simple rhythms with everyday objects used as instruments.
We wanted to take this influence and link it to the idea of the miners having a good time before work, however the monotonous rhythm expresses the tedious nature of the work and the attitudes of the oppressed miners at the time, we felt it was a strong introduction to the piece as different emotions are being expressed through music, an unusual technique and actual artefacts from the mine were used as instruments creating a sense of reality.
Also read about monotonous relationship
In our group we each started to improvise and develop rhythms using, to begin with everyday objects such as chairs to create unusual timbres, however within the final performance we used actual artefacts from the salt mines to create even stronger, remarkable timbres than before. A strong accent was kept on the first beat to keep the rest of the beats in time. The rest of the group used variations around this steady pulse to create a melody that was repeated throughout the piece.
We wanted to carry on the theme of the “controller” to build an obvious character and so showed him giving “army style” orders to show the regimented conditions of the salt mines. We shouted “SALLE VITA! ” an old proverb and motto of the salt industry, “salt is life! ” ironic as it quite clearly is not. This shows our own knowledge and interpretation of the motto, as it would not have been used in this way.
We then improvised twelve scenes with little sense of running order, as we felt the theatre produced would seem more real. We included many different themes and techniques including, passages from the bible to show the religious nature of the time being discussed and how working in the mine almost became cult-like, ” A Roman Catholic priest from Widnes occasionally visits the inhabitants of the mine, to read to them whilst they work. It was quite remarkable to see how important the salt life became to these people.
They even seemed to have their own religious code that if broken would result in a complete avoidance of said person, to me it seems as if they are possessed, until they leave that mine. ” Thomas Marston, a member of the second generation of the great Northwich family of salt proprietors. Shown in our piece through the unity of all the miners and the exclusion of Mr Falks. When devising the piece we decided we needed to concentrate on the aspects of each art form to create a truly effective and interesting piece.
We also tried to layer the art forms wherever possible to create an appropriate atmosphere. For example we devised a short dance that showed how much fun the workers actually had when they were “released” from the mine, it was a simple motif that was repeated and various movements were expanded to show our motif development but also keeping the action simple to reflect the movements of the actual miners. Throughout this we had the member of the group who played Mr Falks sat in the audience shouting various phrases such as, “Ignorant fools! to show that none of this makes sense to the rich mine owner who simply longs for fun and love. Within the dance we featured several brief tableaux of images of jubilation expressed by the workers showing a complete contrast to the feelings felt within the mine. This shows our integration of dance, music and drama. Although we devised our piece early, my group and I had little time to rehearse due to absences; we could have planned our time better and arranged more out of lesson rehearsals. However some of the techniques we used follow:
We allocated each member of the group to be responsible for one thing, for example music or lighting and made a decision to go for less rather than more. One member was responsible for finding all the music to go with the dance sections and found this very successfully, another was responsible for costumes and making sure that everyone brought in what they were meant to. We spent 25% of each lesson talking and the rest practical, this was to make suggestions of new ideas and talk about any research we had done since the last lesson regarding our drama piece and to discuss costume and props or any problems we had.
This worked well as we could discuss any audience feedback we had gained since last time, we began to learn what looked interesting and what didn’t and so effected our devising of the machine motif, as it was commented by one spectator who had watched us rehearse that it was too far away from the audience, as it was placed towards the back of the stage, thus we moved it forward. We individually worked on our characterisation and experimented with any effects that we might want to use, such as physical theatre or any vocal work, such as the operatic effect we created when “Salle Vita” was sang.
We wrote our own script for our own dialogue so these could be developed in more detail individually. The main technique used in the devising process was improvisation, as we all felt that devising should be about spontaneity, excitement and originality. This was successful as none of us had any idea where the other would go next, although we were sticking to our original intentions. All the scenes were fresh and had many different dynamics.
At the beginning of each session we used a technique suggested to us called “The Crystal Ball” in which we recalled what we remembered most powerfully from the previous lesson. In silence we recreated what we personally remembered. This showed us the most important sections from our improvised scenes as these are the ones stuck most strongly in our minds, and so would strike the audience also. So we began to form a definite script in writing to build on.
One scene that stuck out in everybody’s mind was the final funeral scene where the voice and guitar are used to create an emotive atmosphere, this was originally towards the middle of the performance but because it had such a profound effect on us we assumed it would have the same effect on the audience and so made the decision to end the piece on this, the audience would therefore recall this vividly and hopefully do the same with the rest of the piece. Rehearsal is an important feature of the performance process as it is a way of shaping and refining a concept into a complete dramatic statement.
It is a constant process of decision-making and creation. Particular methods adopted in the rehearsing process to enhance the piece included a Brechtian technique of shouting out stage directions to ensure that everybody knew the exact running pattern of the performance. Also, a Merce Cunningham back exercise was incorporated into a dance warm up routine to ensure that the dancers didn’t pull any muscles or cause themselves injury. We then basically just ran through it over and over again. The significance of this repetition was to familiarise ourselves with the material and running order, and to check whether it all ran smoothly.
If there was a problem with a specific area we discussed it so we knew where we were going and what the actual problem was. I found this helpful and after a rigorous rehearsal session there was an obvious difference in quality and the timing was much better. We shared sections of our performance with another devising group and received two pieces of positive feedback and a few pieces of constructive criticism, such as “Watch the angles on the machine motif, as we think they need to be really sharp to reflect the actual machine. This helped us to look at our piece from the audiences perspective and see what was, and what wasn’t working, for example the stomp scene was said to be effective because of its dynamic and rhythmic contrasts but the characterisation was weak as we were “just sat there banging things” so we decided to carry on the theme of gobbledygook we had in the section before to show tiny snippets of the miners characters, making the audience question the how this could be developed and whether it needs to make sense.
The dictionary describes performance as; to carry out (an action); fulfil (a request etc); act, sing or present a play before an audience of any kind. I felt that when we performed our piece of drama it did just that: we carried out a request (made by our tutor) to present a play before an audience. It met the requirements of the course because we developed our technical skills by devising a three-minute piece of drama.
It was original work rather than repertoire although it was inspired by exemplar material and it had an identified purpose and structure. The technical skills improvising, rehearsing and performing we introduced and used as a way of devising the performance material. We were faithful to our original intention of creating a unique piece of drama that made the audience question why theatre should make moral sense. I felt our performance was extremely successful because of the different aspects in the piece.
We included technical features and costume to enhance the performance and each of us dressed in a costume we felt appropriate for our character, aswell as using emblematic costume, such as the miner’s hats to make it obvious to the audience what role we were playing at that time, an influence from Brecht. The reason I felt our performance was successful was because we had focused rehearsals where objectives were continually set and techniques to achieve them employed.
We ensured we had the freedom to work spontaneously in performance and not to be intimidated when voicing our ideas, this guaranteed freshness and excitement for the audience and ourselves. The performance itself went without any major faults in fact I felt the basic quality was better in our performance than our final rehearsal, I think this is because the adrenaline is running and it therefore produces a better piece of theatre.
I think the incorporation dynamics within sections made the piece visually interesting and the audience seem to particularly enjoy the “out of work” dance which was effective and powerful because of the sharp dynamics, good action links and the variation of dance and drama. We received extremely good feedback from the audience. They seemed to really enjoy all aspects of the piece and most importantly understood the message we were trying to convey. After the final performance, our aims set out in the beginning of the module seemed to have been achieved.
We aimed to inform and educate but still entertain our audience about the salt industry in Northwich and after reviewing what the audience said it seems we have accomplished this. Specific feedback has included: “The opening of the piece was attention grabbing, the narration using the bible and a poem was really good and the story was clear and interesting. ” Another person comments; “The contrasts between the scenes was good, there was a clear structure and it was a fluid performance. This illustrates that the piece was easy to watch and understand, a key area we addressed back in the devising process. I think the audience reacted in this way because we thought long and hard about specific decisions relating to proxemics, tension, character, physicality and dialogue knowing that these would make the drama interesting to an audience. We were keen to work in a physical way, using stylised structures in our exploration, our final piece showed this and so our excitement for the piece reflected upon the audience.
Overall we worked with commitment and courage to create a piece of theatre that I felt was thrilling to watch and I am extremely proud of what we produced. We consciously explored new ways of expressing ideas in theatre language. We taught and learnt from each other and were always ambitious and dedicated. These aspects are as important as talent when producing drama I felt this combined effect shaped our drama and made it successful.