Our group was different from the other class sets in the sense that instead of being given a location for our piece to perform at, we were given a completely different format that we had to comply to. That format being audio tours, meaning that we had the freedom to choose almost anywhere in Lincoln to set our performance. This naively appealed to us, thinking that we could choose anywhere within the city to perform in. As I said, naively, this came with problems of its own, mainly where would we choose. To come up with the answer to this Karen told us to go on a “drift”, a journey where you do not plan where you will end up you just randomly go where you feel like in order to hopefully end up in a new and exciting place. Ours started at the Lincoln Performing Arts Centre, working our way through town, past the college and up to an amazing park called the Arboretum on Monks road.
The Arboretum itself has been around for many years since the Victorian years between 1870 and 1872 so offered to us a vast history for us to dive into and gut out. To our luck, on the map of the park it points out the main characteristics as well as small stories behind them, one that caught all of our eyes was ‘The Cold Bath House’. Bombed in the Second World War it immediately grabbed our attention and made us want to find out more about it. Sadly, finding more out about the cold bath house proved more difficult than we first thought. Despite these problems we had already been given loads of inspiration for our piece, we wanted to make it all about lives of those involved in World War Two, and more specifically about a young couple, a soldier who proposes to his girlfriend before he goes off to fight in the war. We wanted to follow their lives, finding out about the war starting, him proposing to his beloved, him leaving for war with the hope of one day returning to his fiancé, and him inevitably dying in the war and her finding out about her future husband’s tragic death. Not only did we have the strong link of the cold bath house being bombed, but in the wars Lincoln was a pivotal point in Britain, being as the first tanks were built here and it continued to help the forces dramatically throughout the years to come. The whole idea for our piece to me was taken from a performance Karen told us about in class where she followed a guide around Greece, listening to an audio tour in which there were times where she was not sure if it was the recording or someone talking to her in real time as the timing of the audio and the lip syncing of the performers was so spot on.
We wanted the performance to comprise of the whole of the Arboretum so that the audience got to see each bit of it, including the lion statue which is a main part of the Arboretum, brought over to the site in pieces but was put together on that spot in 1872. We made each of the more dramatic points within our piece be performed at the more iconic locations of the Arboretum; The bandstand being where we find out over the radio that World War Two has begun, the secret garden within the park where the audience see the solider propose to his girlfriend (the secluded nature of the secret garden adding to the intimacy of the moment), the bridge over the pond where he must leave his girlfriend to fight for our country, following him into the maze where he is shot and dies alone and lost, so that the audience would have to find their own way out finishing at the lion statue with the girlfriend and his family learning the news giving poppies to the audience in a tribute to all those who fell in the two world wars.
The concept of time was a tricky one in our original piece; on the one hand we were using a symbolic time as we were condensing the 5 years of WW2 into one 15 minute long performance. We planned on using different places of the Arboretum to signify various different lives changing moments of our characters. On the other hand we had a set time, we needed to try and fit going round the whole of the Arboretum into about 15 minutes. As well as that we planned on a few moments within the piece where timing with our audio needed to be exactly spot on, for example for a time we wanted one of us to sing on the audio and in real time so it looked like we were singing right in front of them. Choosing a piece that revolves so much around the past has problems of its own, our plan was to take them back in time, to make them feel as though they were living through this time along with our characters. However, this did not come without problems that would have taken some serious thinking to overcome which is why we decided to try and simplify the idea. After trying to rethink and failing to come to any solutions we had to come to terms with the fact that the performance idea had too many flaws that we could not change, mainly being that it was too much of a play with the characters and dialogue where it should be more of a performance art piece so we decided to scrap our ideas and start from scratch with a whole new idea, although we all had our hearts set on using the arboretum and involving the past.
Initially we thought about changing it to do a piece on hellos and goodbyes seeing as a it was set in a park and many people meet up in parks, we considered saying them in a multitude of languages and using the well known signs to go with it however to put a twist on the idea have it so for example when they heard hello the audience would see us bowing which is the custom in Japan. Although this again seemed like a good idea when we sat down and thought about it we realised that even though it linked well with parks in general it was not site specific to the Arboretum. At a loss of where to go next we decided to go back to researching the park, more specifically the cold bath house, bombings of it and in turn the bombings in Lincoln in general. Through researching the cold bath house we found out all about the owner Sir Henry Irving, both his life and his death, (he died after consuming some gone off clotted cream) and accounts by the gardener. As well as this we found fascinating accounts by people who were there in the bombings themselves including one by a man, Fred Hurt talking about how he was with his best friend having tea at five o clock when the bombs hit. “I’d just got into seat when someone said something about a siren. You could just hear it started to wind up when the bombs actually fell. They just fell out of the rain cloud. People tell me it was five o’clock when they looked up to see the bombs falling down. One of them hit Cold bath House and another landed on the allotments in St Anne’s Road.” (BBC, 2005).
This gave us new ideas and inspiration revolving around the accounts of these men, of what the cold bath house, the arboretum and Lincoln were like back in the days, however other members found really interesting stimuli for working with the concept of time which although was fantastic work it was once again sadly not specific enough to the Arboretum. As a result of this we decided to combine the two ideas of talking about time, how it changes and the effects it has on us as people and the history of the Arboretum and the people living near and in it. Giving us the basic ideas and material for the piece that we ended up performing for our final assessment.
Our whole finished end piece was about time, more specifically how it changes, how our lives revolve around it and how it changes as we do. Throughout our walk through the Arboretum we asked the audience to not only view time differently but really think about what it means to us, how the thought of a life without time is completely unimaginable. Each of us had our own part and view on time, Lee was playing the part of Sir Henry Irving, the first owner of the cold bath house, his part entailed him looking over at what he once owned and doing sketches, Hayley and Sara were playing the part of joggers, showing another way that time rules our lives seeing that timing themselves is a big part of a joggers training, Sarah’s part was the part of the gardener of the Cold Bath house, again like Lee linking to the past of the Arboretum and my part was me sitting in the children’s play area as though I was waiting for something or someone. My part of the performance revolves around how time changes as we age, as children we do not think about it, our days are as a whole endless hours of fun that we either do not know how or just do not find the need to keep track of those hours, it is only when we get older that time and the concept of running out of time comes into play and slowly takes over our lives. The idea that time moves fast when you are having fun but a minute feels like an hour when you are waiting is something that everybody over a certain age understands, but when is that age? At what point do we start caring?
During our early walk throughs and rehearsals it became tricky keeping track of how long we needed to get in between places there were many factors we had to keep in mind, would we have someone who could not walk very well in our audience, would the audience want to stop for a while to look at a certain point in the tour. With our original ideas we had one of us being the tour guide leading the audience through the chosen path, however knowing when to lead them on was difficult without having the audio playing for us as well, as we could easily move someone away from a point too early or too late so that the next bit would not make sense and the whole of the performance would become out of sync. Karen also pointed out that we were not leaving ourselves enough time to get from one performance point to the next without having to run around the Arboretum without being seen by the audience rushing around, as well as this following a tour guide limited what the audience would see as they would be concentrating on the person in front, however the way in which the fist idea was performed it meant that it would not work any other way. In our later ideas luckily it worked out with the instructions being on the audio meaning that not only could the audience make their way through it without as much worry of the being behind time or lost but in doing it in this sort of style it allowed us to focus on the performative actions we had on our stations. Rehearsing with the audio though was still a tricky task to compete with, we had to make many adjustments to the timings as we did not give enough time to allow the audience to get to the next point.
During our walk through rehearsal trying to manage all the timings we came about some issues that might come up in the real performance, the main one being members of the public and specifically to me children playing in the play area where I’m supposed to sit. However due to the nature of my part it works with me being alone in the play area or surrounded by playing children provided that I do not look as though I’m joining in or enjoying myself.
The day of the performances came with the problem of weather, for the whole morning before we performed it was very heavy rain, which would of made performing more difficult and in places getting around quickly trickier as a lot of our piece was on a grassy hill. However to our relief when it was actually time to perform it stopped raining long enough for the two showings to Karen and Conan. The first performance went without major problems although for the ending where we end up on the steps in front of the lion statue, we did not realise how long that bit of audio was so were a little bit at a loss of what to do as we did not really think about in depth actions at this point. The feedback from Karen was all good at this point as she did not go for a full feedback conversation just yet, however one thing that was pointed out is that seeing the lion statue from the maze where Sarah was situated was difficult making the instructions tricky to follow, the reason being when we put the piece together it was winter so there were no leaves on the trees to block our view, however when it was time for our performance, it was of course spring so the trees had leaves once more. The second performance went equally as well, apart from we had more of an idea of what to do at the end. Conan had many questions for us, one being why having the joggers in the piece, our answer being that we are showing all sorts of styles of time and joggers are always training for a certain amount of time, try to beat their personal best times. It was just another way of showing how time affects us in many ways.
Given the chance to redo this process again I would have liked to get a solid idea earlier on meaning we had more time to look at more specific aspects of the performance, as well as giving us more time to tidy up the problematic moments as well as having a more trimmed and well drilled performance. As well as giving positives, having a more clear and solid foundation earlier on would have meant that we weren’t changing so often as this became very stressful as we kept thinking that we had a good performance idea only to find too many flaws o issues with our portrayal of the idea. Looking back on the process now I realise that as well we did not spend enough time on site in the Arboretum, or get some of our friends to play as dummies for run-throughs, giving us practice to resolve any kinks in the show, as well as offering us the chance to receive honest feedback. If we had done that maybe the tree issue would not have been a problem. If we had more time as well there are things I would’ve liked to have changed, for example, Sarah’s part in the maze we just had the audience walk past the maze watching Sarah doing her gardening actions, however it occurred to us after that it would have been better for the audience to follow her into the maze itself, letting them go through and maybe even stop the audio for a time so that they can find their own way out, adding to the idea that they are, in a sense, getting lost both physically and in time in an immersive sense.
However, despite all of the problems we encountered and the ideas we could have potentially placed into the piece to add to the enveloping of the audience, many of our ideas we collaborated together to create were strong and powerful moments that we were impressed and proud that we created. I feel that we portrayed not only the concept of time but the past of the Arboreturm. We immersed the audiences successfully and our message was clearly portrayed and explained, something which could have been a dilemma due to our more unique format of having an audio tour.
BBC(2005) WW2 People’s War [online] London:BBC Available from www.bbc.co.uk/history/ww2peopleswar/stories/10/a7503310.shtml [Accessed on 16 March 2015]