Final Blog Submission – Sara May McGrath

Framing Statement

Our final performance A Journey Through Time was centred on time and the importance it plays in our lives, as humans base their whole lives around time. Our chosen site was the Arboretum in Lincoln which is a popular recreational space for dog walkers, runners and the general public. With the performance being based in such a public space when creating a performance we had to consider the practicalities of the general public being around and using the space alongside them. Within our piece we wanted to be able to blend in with the general public and seem inconspicuous to our audience members, during our piece many different people will make their way through the park therefore each time we perform it will be different as there will always be a new set of people moving through the space.

Due to the nature of our performance we chose to perform every hour on the hour to create a consistency and have the idea of resetting within our process. Furthermore with the performances starting on the hour, the audience and actors would hear the Cathedral bells which act as a constant reminder of the time. Once one performance finished we had time to consolidate and reset ourselves ready for the next audience member to lead themselves through the park encountering us on the way. As a group we found it suited us to perform between the hours of 11am and 5pm as we hoped to capture the best natural light for our performance which would make the aesthetics more appreciable for the audience. The audience will play a spectator role, therefore what they see is going to help reflect the subject matter of our performance. By setting up the performance to give the audience members good vantage points of the Arboretum, they can see the full beauty of the park while cementing our comments about time and the way in passes by having them directly compare what is happening in the park to the audio.

To make our performance site specific we have researched into the history of the Arboretum and the part that is played during the Second World War, with parts of the space having been bombed. The historical setting of the Arboretum and the importance it plays in the landscape is what we wanted to also have influence our piece, as the character pieces we could derive from this helped give another depth to our performance.

Ideas and Influence

Our main influence was the company Punchdrunk who aim to show a ‘changing form of theatre in which roaming audiences experience epic storytelling inside sensory theatrical worlds.’ (Punchdrunk, 2013). Our main inspiration was their piece The Borough, based in Aldeburgh and influenced by both George Crabbe’s poem The Borough and Benjamin Britten’s Peter Grimes. Punchdrunk tried to use the stories surrounding Aldeburgh, historically, geographically and socially as well as interweaving the story of Grimes to create a narrative which the audience members would be completely immersed sensually into.

As we tried to recreate, Punchdrunk combine the past and present with fact and fiction to keep their audience intrigued and immersed within the piece, so that whatever is going on around them washes over and they see the deeper meanings which can underlie performances. We tried to re-create this in our own piece with the audience members going on a journey through time as well as around the park, by including monologues from people who would have seen the park throughout time. As a group we found this added a new level to our performance with the audience being asked to think about time and the way in constructs our lives.

Analysis of Process

After being given audio as our chosen medium and having twelve weeks to develop our piece, we have developed and changed our idea many times to fit in with the site we chose and tried to consider what would be more effective for an audience viewing our piece. As Coverley states ‘The Imagination of the would – be traveller allows him to transcend the bounds of time and space’ (Coverley, 2012, 61) which is an aspect which we tried to include when creating our piece.

Coverley creates an idea where the audience member can be in numerous different time periods at once and in many ways with the audio aspect of our performance, some may find that parts of our performance bring back memories or spark the audience to think beyond the Arboretum and themselves to bigger issues and philosophical questions.

With the location of our Site, it was key for us to try and go beyond what the audience can actually see when making their way across the Arboretum. Therefore with the use of audio within our piece, we could add another dimension to our performance wherein the audience could hear more about the Arboretum and questions could be posed to them whilst they overlook the Arboretum from different perspectives.

One aspect which was difficult to try and achieve was making sure that our performance was site specific instead of being site generic, due to the nature of our site it was difficult not to include dialogue and actions which could be generically transferred to other similar sites.

Our first idea was centred on the war and the involvement that Lincoln and the Arboretum had within this historical time, we researched into the people of Lincoln who were remembered during the war and decided to base our first performance on the characters who had a link to the Arboretum. We found the story of a couple and developed these characters to create a family who the audience could follow during their time around the park and see this story develop over the period which the war took place. Time and its importance has played an important part in all of our ideas and this was true for our first idea, with the audience seeing what had happened while encountering the present goings on within the space. However on reflection and meeting with our tutor we found this idea to be too character based and with the audio aspect of our performance, it would have been difficult to fully confer to the audience who everyone was and we tried to create too much of a theatrical performance for an open air, site based performance. Despite this the research which we conducted into the Arboretum, Lincoln and the way in which the war changed the landscape could still be transferred to our later ideas in order to retain the specific nature of our performance.

In our research we found a 1981 census for the Cold Bath House, and accounts from people who had been in the area at the time of the bombing. The Cold Bath House was a glass building which stood in the Arboretum and was home to Henry Hebb who built the house and lived in it, as well as offering the main room to the city council to meet. We then adapted these accounts and placed them in our piece to give the historical context of the site. In using these accounts to create essences of people who had been there, we created a past dimension to our piece which allowed the audience to have a glimpse at some of the people who had lived in the area and been a part of the Arboretums history. We tried to create a performance which saw ghosts of the past moving among the present time in a current space with no consequence or alteration to the site.

One of the greatest difficulties we encountered was the audio aspect of our performance. When walking around the park for the first few times, we didn’t notice the different sounds which come into focus as we moved around the path we had created. As a group we walked around the park with earphones in to pinpoint the sounds that we should be hearing at different moments in our performance. In addition to this when in the children’s play park we went around to see what kinds of different sounds could be made by the different climbing frames and structures within the park. Included in our audio was the chiming of music steps which when stepped on chimed in a whimsical manner. These different aspects and sounds had to be greatly considered when thinking of our overall performance, as we didn’t want to overload the audience member with lots of different sounds. We wanted to allow the audience to pace themselves and hear the wild track which included birdsong at intervals where they had the opportunity to look over the Arboretum and take in the spectacle of our site. In creating our performance we hoped to encourage the audience member to think beyond the performance as ‘They have left me with the whole universe; immensity and eternity are mine to command’ (Coverley, 2012, 64), the idea that a performance can leave the audience feeling empowered, and that they can command their own destiny is something that I wanted to try and get across in our final idea. The philosophical debate about time and how it works is always ever present and if we can encourage our audience members to consider these ideas about time, how they affect us in different ways, we could leave the audience with a deeper understanding. As well as making them consider making changes within their daily routine to maximise the time that we do have, in order to spend it doing something constructive instead of wasting hours that we can’t get back.

One of the main influences of our piece was a section from Mitch Albom’s book The Time Keeper, in the text he poses, ‘Try to imagine a life without time keeping. You probably can’t, you know the month, the year, the day of the week. There is a clock on your wall or the dashboard of your car, you have a schedule, a calendar, time for dinner or a movie. Yet all around you time keeping is ignored, birds are not late, a dog does not check its watch, deer do not fret over passing birthdays. Man alone measure time, man along chimes the hour and because of this man alone suffers a paralyzing fear that no other creature endures. A fear of time running out.’ (Albom, 2012, 8). Albom writes about the physical importance of time as we all move like clockwork, we all run on cycles. In our choice of site the audience would be able to compare and contrast the difference between what human beings do in the space compared to the animals. In choosing to repeat this section at the beginning and end of our piece we hoped to show the cyclical nature of our piece, where the audience are posed this same section on completion of the tour.

Due to the focus on time we had to consider whether our piece would be cyclical of linear in progression. Our final idea can be considered as both Linear and Cyclical, as on our performance day each time we take an audience member around then finish our piece we then take a break and reset ourselves for the next performance. Therefore giving a linear repeated action to our performance, yet it can be noted that our performance is cyclical with the way in which we repeat the actions continuously throughout the day, always resetting and repeating with minimal changes to our own actions, only the people around us will change. Within parks there is going to be a cycle of people moving in and out, doing what they need to get done the leaving. While we as a performance group stay the constant within the park the action going on around us changes constantly with the public performing repeated actions for themselves or doing something out of their daily routine. The ambiguity around the members of the public and their reason for being there adds to our questioning of time, we do not know why the people are there but that at moment in time they are and we will become a part of their day as they possibly encounter us as we perform.

One risk we took with our site was the open nature and lack of cover which it would be able to provide if we did have bad weather on the day of our performance. The positive of our site is that in the summer months, the sunlight creates a positive, upbeat atmosphere. Although during rehearsals we had to brave the elements, in our later rehearsals we had bad weather and we found that it did caused a hindrance as it distracted the audience member from the audio and made it difficult for us as actors to move around the Arboretum quickly with the wet grass and health and safety hazards. Moreover with bad weather and the distance that our site was from the town centre we would be unlikely to get many people come and visit our site. If there was to be bad weather on the day of our performance, I believe that it would change the tone of our piece and make the way in which we approached the subject of time and the questions we posed via audio. As we hoped to insight thought and further discussion after being a part of our piece, there may be a more negative or pessimistic view of our piece if the weather creates a darker mood within our piece.

Our final performance idea was a culmination of ideas around time, space, past and present. We combined the historical details from our research with the general public who we encountered in our time at the park. We used some of their actions as our own repetitive performative actions within our performance, actions such as running and exercising within the Arboretum. As runners we chose to select a section near the fountain and ran around it, with one runner being faster than the other and continually stopping to wait for the other to catch up. By running in the cyclical yet stilted nature we created a pattern which we followed through the performance. In addition the character of Hebb, moved around the Arboretum and continually stopped in order to draw different aspect of the park, including the cold bath house which used to stand near the entrance to the park. Through combining these repetitive actions with the essence of characters who over time have been a part of the Arboretum such as the designer of the Cold Bath House, Henry Kirk Hebb and the Gardener to tended to the Arboretum since before the Cold Bath House was bombed in the Second World War. We created a performance that transcended time and allowed the audience to take a walk through history as well as the physical space.

In our final rehearsal before the performance we attempted a run through where I took the part of the audience member. We decided to add an extra character monologue into our piece therefore our final rehearsal also acted as a last effort to adapt the audio, in order to make sure that the speech matched up to the sections which would correlate to what was being said. Moreover we wanted to make sure that the time gaps in between the speech would allow the audience to move to the next part of their journey around the Arboretum.

As performers we had to be aware that whilst moving around the site, we would constantly be on show to the audience as the path we had chosen to make the audience follow would mean constant exposure. It would then be key to stay in character and understand the route we would take so that we all moved as clockwork around the site.

Performance Evaluation

On reflection our performance was executed well and worked effectively in our site. Through our audio we had a sound consideration of time and the way it affects people and spaces, however we could have extended this thinking further by including more physical actions and interactions with the audience. The way in which we developed our idea meant that we wanted the audience member to be an observer, despite this our performance could have worked better by including moments in which the audience were encouraged to join the performers and try to join in their actions. As actors we could have worked to integrate the audience into the piece and make them feel the movement of the piece and well as the passing of time which they take to complete each task. The main example of this being with the use of the maze, we could have told the audience member to move into the maze and pause the recording while they find their way in and back out again. By including this we could have furthered the audiences thinking about time, as each person would complete the task in different times and they could experience getting lost in the maze and also getting ‘lost in time’. On top of this, at the beginning of each performance we heard the chimes of the Cathedral signalling the hour, which added another level to our performance as the audience was again being reminded of time and the part in plays in human lives.

If we were to change anything about our performance to do again, I would change our performance group. Fortunately four of the five of our group worked well together and shared the work so that even if slightly unequal we all contributed. However one member didn’t contribute fairly within our group and had to be carried along, throughout the module they let us down and in our final performance their section within the journey was unimpressive. More could have been done with their section in the play park and due to it being near the beginning of the audiences walk didn’t set a good standard for the audience to continue their walk on.

One concept which we wanted to focus on was the details which we included for certain actors, Lee who played a character of Henry Kirk Hebb was repeatedly moving around the Arboretum and drawing the maze section and what was The Coldbath House which was bombed. To create this we drew outlines of both sections and left details to be added while we performed, therefore as the end of the performance day we had a more completed drawing of both parts.

I believe that as a group we felt restricted by the audio aspect of our piece as I personally have never worked with audio before, as a result it was a new idea and venture for a performance piece. Once we had our final idea, it became easier to consider the audio and due to this I took into consideration what you can see but not always hear. As a group I think that we worked well and tried to come up with a piece which was thought provoking and linked in with the historical setting of our site. In addition to this with the conditions which we faced in the Arboretum with the intermittent bad weather, we performed well and worked with the space we had chosen.

Word Count: 3216

Bibliography

Coverley, M. (2012) The Art of Wandering: the writer as walker. Harpender: Oldcastle Books.

Albom, M. (2012) The Time Keeper. Sphere.

Punchdrunk (2013) The Borough. [Online] Aldeburgh: Punchdrunk. Available from http://punchdrunk.com/past-shows/article/the-borough [Accessed 28 April 2015].

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